GOP voter-ID legislation may be casualty of Dems' takeover

Republican legislation that would have mandated the use of photo identification for voters in the 2008 federal elections appears to be dead, and its demise was aided by historic Democratic gains in last week’s election.

Senate GOP leadership sources, citing time restraints, say it is unlikely that the Federal Election Integrity Act will be brought to a floor vote during the lame-duck session. While the certainty of a unified resistance from Senate Democrats may have made this an easier decision, the move to discard the measure ends GOP efforts to change voter ID policies for the next election.

Democrats will mark this as a victory leading into their first session as the majority in both chambers since 1994, while Republicans have clearly set their legislative priorities in light of their waning days in the majority.

The bill, sponsored by outgoing Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), would require voters to provide government-issued photo ID before voting in any election for federal office, amending both the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Two of the more controversial provisions obliged voters to use ID that requires proof of citizenship for all federal elections from 2010 onward, while allowing states to charge a fee for the ID unless the voter attests to his or her inability to pay. The legislation passed in the House in September with a small number of lawmakers crossing party lines.

Supporters of the legislation have stated that obliging voters to show photo ID prevents the onset of voter fraud and maintains the integrity of federal elections. Critics have consistently claimed that such laws would disproportionately affect poor and minority communities whose members are less likely to have government-issued ID, such as passports or drivers licenses, or be able to afford them if they had to purchase them.

A GOP leadership official cited two pieces of legislation that have been deemed priority among Senate Republicans: a bill that would normalize trade relations with Vietnam and legislation that would enact a civilian nuclear agreement with India, which the White House has been strongly pushing Congress to pass since this past March.

Prior to the midterm elections, however, Senate Republicans held discussions about a variety of legislative issues including the photo ID bill, and had hoped to bring the bill for a vote before the end of the year, according to a GOP leadership source in a September e-mail.

In a Sept. 22 letter sent to outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn), one day after the House passed the Hyde bill, a group of Senate Democrats threatened a sharp response if the legislation was brought up for a vote.

The letter stated that “this bill recalls a dark era in our nation when individuals were required to pay a poll tax to cast their ballot and has been termed a 21st century poll tax.” The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and Sens. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

Will Edgar, a spokesman for Reid, said that “the letter is still operative” in the event that the bill is brought to the floor, but stopped short of saying that Democratic opposition would have included a filibuster. A recent vote on a similar bill this past summer, however, suggested that the legislation would not survive such a move.

The voter ID issue has severed the deep bipartisanship that culminated in this summer’s reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The reauthorization legislation passed with 390 votes in the House and 99 votes in the Senate. However, the House passage of the voter ID bill attracted the support of four Democrats while three Republicans rejected it.

A federal challenge to an Arizona voter ID law has made it unclear as to whether individual states will be able to employ voter ID legislation in the future. Georgia has had two voter ID laws struck down in federal and state court in 2005 and 2006, respectively.