Report: Voter ID requirements are part of a coordinated effort to suppress minority turnout

(Image: Samantha Celera/Flickr)

Voter photo identification proposals in 32 states, including Colorado, are the product of a coordinated effort by conservatives to reduce polling place turnout by minority groups, who turned out in unprecedented numbers during the 2008 presidential election, a progressive civil rights organization alleges in a new report.

Proponents of the legislation (typically Republicans) generally argue that voter ID is not an onerous burden but is necessary to prevent voting fraud.

“These photo ID proposals, while appearing benign on their face, are not,” said Denise Lieberman, the report author and senior attorney of Advancement Project. “They’re part of a larger and more insidious coordinated effort to push back voting rights for voters of color and other vulnerable populations, who saw increased voter turnout in 2008, in an effort that will have the effect of depressing voter turnout in 2012.”

In addition to voter ID legislation, Lieberman highlights initiatives such as King Street Patriot’s True the Vote (KSP/TTV) project to recruit 1 million poll watchers for Election Day 2012. The report cites articles from the Texas Independent on KSP/TTV, and from the Minnesota Independent on assertions by the state’s county attorneys that Minnesota Majority’s reports of massive voter fraud in 2008 were “frivolous.”

Lieberman referred to the Houston tea party’s recent national summit, which drew attendees from more than two dozen states. “This isn’t limited to Harris County, Texas — 2010 was a practice run for a similar nationwide effort in urban centers across the nation in 2012, playing on unsubstantiated fears of so-called voter fraud, which has been documented not to exist, to justify placing full-scale voter challenge and voter-intimidation efforts at polling places and precincts that have disproportionate minority populations,” she said.

The Texas House and Senate have passed differing versions of voter ID legislation, Senate Bill 14 by state Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay). The legislation is now in conference committee.

The House’s version of the bill is especially troublesome, Lieberman said because it does not contain an exemption to the requirement for people age 70 and over.

“Seniors are a particularly vulnerable population because now that exemption is gone, a lot of seniors in Texas will be significantly affected. Many of bills across the U.S. do exempt senior citizens, partly because those are the folks who have the hardest time getting original source documents,” she said.

Additionally, Lieberman said the Texas legislation’s fiscal note is not a true reckoning of how much the law would cost to implement.

Lieberman, of Missouri, said, “One of the problems with Texas is the Legislature is estimating it will cost $2 million. In Missouri, it cost $20 million to implement. We only have 4 million voters, and our law exempts senior citizens from the requirement. $2 million is a paltry sum. It doesn’t begin to account for the actual cost Texas is going to have to incur in providing free IDs.”

She said she would expect the U.S. Department of Justice to raise the same kinds of objections it presented against Georgia’s voter photo ID legislation, which she said only eventually passed Voting Rights Act preclearance once the state spent 10s of millions of dollars to give citizens notice, including via direct mail, public service announcements, public notices, television advertising and notices in everyone’s utility bills.

“If Texas is actually to do all that, do everything Georgia has done, it’s going to cost a lot more than $2 million. They have not allocated the resources to do this right,” she said. “They simply can’t on $2 million, and the bill doesn’t require them to do all of these things. I think that does make it quite suspect under the Voting Rights Act.”

Describing her group as a “civil rights action tank” based in Washington, D.C., Lieberman said Advancement Project and its attorneys are working to combat pending legislation, examining possible legal challenges to laws that are passed, and pushing for gubernatorial vetoes of bills (though not in Texas, where Gov. Rick Perry has deemed it a legislative priority).

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