If you tune in to politics, you likely felt the Internet reverberations of Wisconsin's Voter ID Bill, commonly referred to as Voter Suppression, passing through the Wisconsin Legislature late last month. After being delayed thanks to Senate Democrats debating the bill and offering what would become ungranted amendments, the bill passed along party lines. The League of Women voters denounced the GOP's "fear-based approach instead of a fact-based solution" saying in a statement that "In its rush to pass legislation to restrict voting before the recall elections, the majority party in the state Senate has shown an utter disregard for common respect and fair process." Videos of two Wisconsin Democratic Senators deriding the measure appear at the bottom of this post.
Perhaps most suspiciously, the Main Street blog notes, Wisconsin's Voter Suppression bill goes in to effect in advance of the recall elections of six GOP state senators this summer.
But Wisconsin, though highly publicized because of this year's confrontation between Governor Scott Walker and Labor Unions, is far from the only state being subject to this baseless attack on voters. Here is a brief rundown of other places this type of legislation can be found:
Governor Nikki Haley signed SC's Voter ID bill into law with the Black Eyed Peas playing in the background, something some minority groups took great offense to since the legislation is widely viewed as an attack on minority populations. But not only minority representatives are taking offense to the bill. Haley upset many of the estimated 178,000 people impacted by the bill with a classless defense: "If you can show a picture to buy Sudafed, if you can show a picture to get on an airplane, you should be able to show a picture ID to (vote)," she said. Of course, many people in South Carolina can not afford medicine, let alone a costly airplane flight, so this absurd and out-of-touch argument means nothing to anyone the Governor needs (or perhaps doesn't need) to convince. Going one further, SC's law eliminates student IDs as a valid form of voter identification. More from The State.
The voter ID bill signed by Kansas Governor Sam Brownback, the first of such laws signed this year, appears to be the most restrictive, something Rachel Maddow suggested "makes it almost impossible to register to vote." Her comment was in reference to the requirement of a birth certificate or passport to prove U.S. citizenship the first time one registers. In Kansas, the ACLU brought up the privacy side of the matter, a compelling though infrequently referenced argument, suggesting "Voters are entitled to a secret ballot. Requiring a photo ID interferes with this right." A legal battle is expected.
Governor Rick Scott beat almost every new governor to the punch, signing sweeping election reforms into law last Thursday. The Orlando Sentinel describes Florida's rules changes: "The new law dramatically overhauls state voting laws by changing longstanding procedures that allow a person to change his or her registration or name at the polling place, puts in new requirements for third party voter registration groups and shortens the number of days available for early voting." Governor Scott has yet to make a public statement about the measure which Democrats and activist groups such as the ACLU have petitioned the Justice Department to block.
The House passed Voter ID in Texas on May 16th, making the claim that it "would increase voter participation because of greater confidence in honest elections." An earlier version of the bill, which passed the Senate in March, made its way through the House despite...you got it...ungranted amendments and emotional calls to halt the legislation by Democrats. "I think that we'll look back in shame," Marc Veasey (D-Fort Worth), told reporters then. Five forms of identification, including a Texas Concealed Handgun License but excluding a student ID, have been approved. As always, legal action has been guaranteed by the law's opponents.
Opponents of Republican Daryl Metcalfe's Voter Suppression bill in Pennsylvania have argued that the law aims "to fix a problem we don't have by exacerbating two problems we do have." Those two problems are voter turnout and the budget deficit. The claim has been made that "11 percent of eligible voters don't have official photo ID" in Pennsylvania, a striking number that the Brennan Center suggests is the case nationwide. "It stands to reason," Philly.com continues, "that measures such as Metcalfe's will only make things worse, especially for poor people, who are most likely to fall into this category." We'll get to the cost associated with the law in a moment.
Democratic Governor Mark Dayton has made a name for himself so far this term, speaking out in favor of working people and providing a budget proposal that was lauded for its ability to truly tackle Minnesota's fiscal situation. The Governor is expected to veto a GOP Voter ID measure, but that measure has yet to reach his desk because of apparent violations of open meetings rules. Similar violations have been witnessed in Wisconsin. In Minnesota, "Rep. Ryan Winkler said leaders of the conference committee resolving two voter ID bills did not properly notify interested parties they were meeting last Saturday." Sherri Knuth with the League of Women Voters said it was "abnormal" to amend the bill out of the public eye, though no conclusions have yet been made as to whether the foul play was devious or simply lazy.
The common argument of protecting the "integrity" of voting has been used in North Carolina where Senator Debbie Cleary (R-Cleveland) authored the Senate Voter ID bill which mirrors a House bill introduced earlier. 701,000 North Carolinians do not have a driver's license, according to the Charlotte Observer, but Governor Bev Perdue, a Democrat, is expected to veto Voter ID should it make it's way to her desk.
In New Boston, NH an interesting thing happened. A local polling station conducting a special election for a House seat put up a sign that read: “Per pending legislation you will be required to produce a photo ID in order to receive a ballot. Please have your photo ID ready before you approach the ballot clerk. Thank you.” The outrageousness of this apparent dry run of an as-yet-realized law has many up in arms. "So what was the point?, the Nashua Telegraph asked. "To determine how many voters would show up without a photo ID? To gauge how they would react when told they wouldn’t be able to vote as they had done in the past? To see how much of a fuss they would make before someone felt inclined to inform them this was all part of a grand charade?" Blue Hampshire notes that the soothsaying sign fiasco occured "On the same day House Republican Speaker Bill O'Brien was defending SB129, a voter ID bill, in a hearing of the House Finance Committee." New Hampshire Democratic Party Press Secretary Harrell Kirstein called the bill "a disgrace for the state that hosts the first presidential primary election every four years" and "at odds with the core principles of our American Democracy."
Voters in Missouri will have a chance to voice their opinions on both Voter ID and early voting procedures in next year's election, according to the Kansas City Star. Both the Senate and House have approved the measures, but current law prohibits such measures from being enacted. "Including both measures in the state constitution is viewed as necessary because the courts have struck down statutory voter-ID requirements as unconstitutional." Republicans have made the claim that "close elections" in Missouri require extra fraud prevention. Democrat Julie Justus replied that “It should be the policy of the state to make sure that more people vote, rather than less,” and that "fears that voter fraud is rampant in this state are completely misguided.” More on that in a moment.
The Attorney General in Tennessee has taken a position not seen in any other state Voter ID debate, issuing a legal opinion that Voter Suppression is unconstitutional because the state does not provide a costless way of obtaining a valid photo ID to its constituents. This would constitute a poll tax. The TN Senate passed Voter ID in February and the House took it up last week. The AG's full opinion is HERE.
A governor veto of Voter ID is nearly guaranteed in Montana, rendering the bill almost dead on arrival.
The common thread across all states introducing Voter Suppression laws is the claim by GOP legislators that voter fraud is rampant, a problem that must be dealt with. The fact is, however, that there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim.
In 2007, five years after the George W. Bush administration went on the offensive to crack down on voter fraud, 120 people had been arrested and 86 charged.
The aforementioned Brennan Center for Justice recently released a brief, "The Truth About Voter Fraud," that drew several conclusions including "the unsubstantiated specter of mass voter fraud suits a particular policy agenda" and "fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare," adding that "Even for the few who view voting merely as a means to an end...voter fraud is a singularly foolish way to attempt to win an election. Each act of voter fraud risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine – but yields at most one incremental vote. The single vote is simply not worth the price."
Further Brennan Center research found that Missouri experienced overall voter fraud rates of 0.0003% in 2000 and 0.0001% in 2004, while 0.0006% was found in New Hampshire in 2004, 0.0004% in New Jersey in 2004, and 0.000009% in New York in 2004.
What's worse for the states than the misleading claims of voter fraud prevalence are the costs associated with pursuing the bills. These costs include printing valid photo IDs for individuals who do not have them, since they must be provided free of charge to avoid constituting a poll tax; the cost of training polling staff to accurately perform their updated duties; and the cost of the bureaucratic shift caused by the changing of long-standing procedure. There is a cost incurred by the voter, regardless of the gratis nature of the IDs, because many individuals must travel to obtain their cards, something that is not always easy for the poor and elderly.
Naturally, there is debate about the true cost of the bills. In South Carolina, Voter ID opponents claim the law will cost more than $1 million to enforce, while House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said it would be $500,000 to $600,000. There is also a recurring annual cost of $100,000 associated with the bill, according to detractors.
In Wisconsin, the Wisconsin State Journal reports that Voter ID would cost $5.7 million.
The most thorough repudiation of the fiscal drawbacks of Voter Suppression comes from a Democrats.org report, "Real Cost of Photo ID," which suggests that 36 states with collective budget shortfalls of $97 billion have introduced Voter ID laws despite the undeniability of their cost. "In order to estimate the real cost of photo ID legislation," the report reads, "we analyzed the actual costs of implementing photo ID regimes in Indiana and Georgia alongside average costs predicted in 17 state fiscal notes. We found that if each of these 36 states enacts photo ID legislation, taxpayers across the country will pay at least $276 million and up to $828 million for this unnecessary legislation."
The report provides a chart of the state-by-state projected cost of Voter ID bills:
The Democrats.org report may be the most accurate because their calculations include "the immediate costs of the legislation as well as the implementation necessary to satisfy constitutional scrutiny" and because their estimates are based on actual costs incurred in other states, such as Indiana and Georgia, that have already implemented the laws. "The problem of voter impersonation, which is the only type of fraud photo ID could conceivably address," the report points out, "is less likely to occur than a person being struck by lightning."
Whether you think the Right Wing's motivation for Voter Suppression is racial, "fear-based" with respect to upcoming elections, or just plain evil, the facts are clear. This is a solution in search of a problem; it achieves little other than to disenfranchise, or at the very least discourage, large swaths of low-income and transient (i.e. student) populations that often vote for Democrats; it is cost-ineffective relative to its results and, perhaps most notably, it represents what might be called an over-reaching, big government policy, something the GOP has grown increasingly fond of in the face of vocal opposition by the little guy.
John Erpenbach (D-Wisconsin) on Voter ID
Lena Taylor (D-Wisconsin) on Voter ID