Disputes over tighter voting procedures grow as election year approaches

Tighter voting laws, such as those requiring voters to produce a photo ID before casting their ballot, in several states could not only disenfranchise some voters, but also lead to longer voting lines next year, according to the results of a mock election in Wisconsin.

House Republicans and Democrats bickered Tuesday over the new laws on the House floor. Democrats said voter ID laws disenfranchise minority, elderly and student voters — who typically support Democrats — while Republicans claimed the new laws reduce voter fraud.

ADVERTISEMENT
“They claim we need to crack down on an epidemic of voter fraud that does not exist,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. “There is simply no evidence of any widespread voter fraud.”

Republicans cited the example of ACORN voter registration drives where workers falsely registered voters across the country in 2008.

Democratic Reps. John Conyers (Mich.) and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) wrote a letter Monday to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) demanding a hearing on state voting laws. In the letter they compared some of the laws to a poll tax, such as the ones used in the South prior to the Voting Acts Right of 1965 to deny blacks the vote.

“I want every American citizen who is qualified to vote,” said Judiciary Committee member Steve King (R-Iowa). “I don't want anybody slowed up at the polls and intimidated because of any reason. But to imply that people are denied their right to vote in this country as if this were 1960 all over again really is a false premise.”

Hoyer, along with 196 House Democrats, sent a letter to secretaries of state asking them to oppose new state election laws.

“Across the country, states are trying to make it harder to vote by making identification requirements stricter and reducing early voting,” the letter stated. “Proponents of these new measures claim they are to counter an epidemic of voter fraud. However, there is simply no evidence to back it up. What is evident is that those making the new rules are doing so because of a political agenda.”

Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have photo ID requirements and several other states have implemented new voting rules that reduce early voting and limit same-day registration.

“Wisconsin has joined the map of shame,” Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said. “It is one of seven states in red here on the map of shame that have very stringent voter ID laws in order to be able to vote.”

Wisconsin, which passed its new voting laws this summer, performed a mock election last month in Madison with election officials and volunteers. The dry run revealed waiting times for voters could greatly increase when the law takes effect on Feb. 21 — the spring primary.

Collen Werwie, the spokeswoman for Gov. Scott Walker (R-Wis.), said the governor is optimistic that the ID requirement will help poll workers, who are often elderly, look up names on voter rosters faster since the correct name spelling will be right in front of them.

But the October mock election, arranged by Madison City Clerk Maribeth Witzel-Behl, proved new training of poll workers is greatly needed.

“We had voters there who came to volunteer their time and I had some of them tell me that it was taking about 10 times longer than they were use to at their own polling place to get through the line,” Witzel-Behl said. “We also had people coming during their lunch breaks and they found that they just didn’t have a half-hour to wait in line and they said ‘If the line was this long at the polling place, I would probably just give up and leave.’”

Witzel-Behl said each polling station will need a minimum of 10 polling workers — double what was needed before the new election laws — and that would cost the city $350,000 just for the upcoming four elections.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that President Obama's campaign staffers will descend on Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida to help inform voters of the new laws so that turnouts of key demographic voters don’t decline in 2012.

“Voter ID laws are meant to disenfranchise Democrats,” Moore said. “Very clearly if you want to disenfranchise a large swath of Democratic voters you go after the young and African American and you can very clearly accomplish this.”

Other Democrats cited research from the Brennan Center for Justice that showed voter ID laws disproportionately affect elderly, minorities, college students and people with disabilities who want to vote but don’t have the required forms of ID.

Most of the states with new voting laws face legal challenges or must receive pre-clearance from the Department of Justice.

“I would encourage and ask the Justice Department to be diligent on reviewing all of these voter ID laws,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said. “Texas is now being reviewed and it has not been pre-cleared. We ask the Justice Department to declare that it is in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

King accused the Department of Justice of picking and choosing which laws to enforce for political reasons, in reference to ACORN and a report of Black Panther members standing outside a Philadelphia polling station in an intimidating way in 2008.

“We don't know about the prosecutions that may or may not be taking place,” King said. “It's not considered to be as serious an offense by, let me just say, the Department of Justice as it should be. After all, they have their prosecutorial discretion. They have testified before the Judiciary Committee, where I serve, that they select which laws they want to enforce and which ones they do not want to enforce.”

More in Technology

Feds notch procedural win in AT&T fight over ‘unlimited’ data

Read more »