GOP platform calls for tough voter ID laws
© Greg Nash

The Republican Party's platform formally endorses laws requiring voters to show identification when they cast ballots.

The new provision inserts the national party into a contentious debate over voter access at a time when several states are tightening identification requirements.

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The party platform, adopted unanimously by delegates in Cleveland on Monday, goes farther than language that had been included in earlier years. The party "support[s] legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting," the document reads.

Four years ago, the GOP platform "applaud[ed] legislation to require photo identification for voting and to prevent election fraud."

The stronger language comes ahead of a presidential election in which 12 states — including swing states like Wisconsin, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Virginia — will enforce voter identification laws for the first time.

"This is part of a broader move to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote," wrote the Brennan Center for Justice, which opposes many of the new laws.

Thirty-three states will require voters to show proof of identification in November, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The laws vary widely by state: In Texas, a state with one of the stricter requirements, voters must show one of six types of government-issued photo identifications, ranging from a passport to a license to carry a concealed handgun. 

In Delaware, voters are asked to show documents ranging from a photo identification to a utility bill or paycheck; someone without proof of identity may still cast a ballot if he or she signs an affidavit affirming their identity.

The debate over laws requiring voters to show identification has deepened along partisan lines in recent years, after Republicans claimed control of a record number of state legislative chambers after the 2010 and 2014 elections. Democrats, who say identification laws disproportionally impact low-income, minority and elderly voters, have sued over newly restrictive laws in states like North Carolina, Virginia and Texas.

Republicans say the laws help ensure the integrity of elections, though no cases of widespread voter fraud have come to light in recent years.

The 2016 Republican platform also encourages states to join the Interstate Voter Registration Cross Check Program, a pilot plan run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R). The program cross-references voter rolls among its 28 member states, looking for identical names and date-of-birth matches to eliminate any duplicates. 

That program came under fire in 2013, however, when Virginia's state Board of Elections used it to remove tens of thousands of names from its rolls. 

Kobach, perhaps the GOP's leading voice defending voter identification laws, was a member of the Republican Platform Committee in 2016. Kobach's office is currently embroiled in a legal fight with the Department of Justice over a Kansas law requiring voters to show proof of citizenship when they vote; the law could prevent an estimated 17,000 Kansas voters from casting ballots in local elections, even though they could still vote in federal races.

The Republican platform says the party "strongly oppose[s] litigation against states exercising their sovereign authority to enact" laws requiring both proof of citizenship and voter identification.

A draft of the Democratic Party's proposed platform, on which delegates will vote next week in Philadelphia, calls for overturning voter identification laws and reinstating "the full protections of the Voting Rights Act," portions of which the Supreme Court struck down in 2015.

"[W]e will continue to fight against discriminatory voter identification laws, which disproportionately burden young voters, diverse communities, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, the elderly, and women," the draft says. "Republicans have enacted various voter suppression tactics from Ohio to Florida, and while some Federal Courts have found that these measures go too far, Democrats will continue to fight these laws to preserve the fundamental right to vote."

Not all voting rights issues have broken down strictly along partisan lines. Four states — liberal Vermont, Oregon and California and conservative West Virginia — have passed measures in recent years that automatically register eligible citizens to vote. In those states, voting rolls have swelled ahead of November's elections; in California, where Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed automatic registration into law last year, voter rolls jumped by more than 600,000 in just the first few months of 2016.