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Legislators Call Voter ID Laws a "Grave Mistake," Urge Real Election Modernization

Preventing exceedingly rare voter fraud is not worth the very real consequences to electoral participation among the elderly, youth, and communities of color. That's the message being sent by state legislative leaders across the nation, three of whom - State Del. Jon Cardin (MD), State Rep. Joe Miklosi (CO), and State Rep. Ben Cannon (OR) - co-wrote an op-ed published in the Baltimore Sun this week:

A healthy civic society requires protecting citizens' fundamental right to vote while ensuring the integrity of our electoral system. Sadly, this goal is being jeopardized by a coordinated, nationwide effort to enact voter ID laws that will not solve the challenges facing our electoral systems and will instead disenfranchise voters and infringe upon the fundamental American right to free and fair elections.

The real effect of voter ID laws is not to prevent fraud but to disenfranchise millions of deserving voters. Studies have shown that about 21 million Americans, or 11 percent of eligible voters, currently lack a valid photo ID. However, those percentages rise to as high as 25 percent for African-Americans, 15 percent for low-income voters, 18 percent for seniors and 20 percent for voters under 30. You may notice a pattern here: many of these demographic groups are progressive base voters....

The campaign by narrow special interests to strip away the fundamental rights of our citizens through voter ID requirements is disingenuous. There are far better methods to address the challenges in our electoral systems, and we urge our colleagues across the country to join us in modernization efforts that will maximize voter access, reduce costs to taxpayers, improve security and help us stay true to the bedrock principles upon which our country was founded.

The destructive effects of state voter ID laws are becoming more and more painfully clear in other states as well. Tennessee’s new voter ID law is barely five months old and, already, it’s disenfranchising the state’s elderly voters.  Last week’s heartbreaking story about a 96-year-old Chattanooga resident who was denied a voter ID is, unfortunately, likely the first of many that are sure to surface as GOTV efforts ramp up for the 2012 elections. 

Dorothy Cooper,  96-year-old Chattanooga resident, found someone to drive her to a state Driver Service Center so she could obtain the ID she now needs in order to excercise her right to vote, stood in line with her walker, and presented a packet of materials that included her rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her voter registration card, and her birth certificate – and still couldn’t obtain her voter ID because she lacked a marriage certificate to document her married name.  In seven decades of going to the polls, Cooper said she had never had problems – not even during the Jim Crow days prior to passage of the Voting Rights Act in the 60’s – until now. Yet even when seniors have driver’s licenses, they are not out of the woods in Tennessee.  The state does not require seniors over 60 to have a picture on their license; of 230,000 who opted not to get a picture on their license, about 126,000 are registered to vote.   

Around the nation, legislators and the public alike are realizing the nefarious, partisan intent behind voter ID laws, intented to address what the New York Times accurately characterized in an editorial this week as "The Myth of Voter Fraud." The editorial board notes that the assault on voting rights is not limited to voter ID - and it is not rooted in any actual desire to address fraud:

Other states are beginning to require documentary proof of citizenship to vote, or are finding other ways to make it harder to register. Some are cutting back on programs allowing early voting, or imposing new restrictions on absentee ballots, alarmed that early voting was popular among black voters supporting Barack Obama in 2008. In all cases, they are abusing the trust placed in them by twisting democracy’s machinery to partisan ends.