Minnesota Republicans’ Efforts to Pass Voter ID Don’t Compute

Today, members of the Minnesota House will hear two controversial bills that could cost the state millions and hamper voter access in a state that is renowned for progressive election policy.

Minnesota has long boasted above-average voter turnout, thanks, in part, to a decades-old policy that permits eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day with a zero-rate of voter fraud. Despite lacking evidence of pervasive voter impersonation issues (as well as lacking available funding), state lawmakers are intent on changing the rules governing Election Day Registration and adding a requirement for all voters to present photographic proof of identity before voting.

“An effective, full-scale voter ID program can easily end up costing state taxpayers $20 million or more – the three-year price tag officials estimated in 2010 for a program in Missouri,” wrote Chris Kromm of the Institute for Southern Studies. “For most states, such a costly program would be a suspect luxury in ordinary times; it’s nearly impossible to justify it in today’s economic crisis.”

Kromm’s article delves into the cost of implementation, education of poll workers and the public, and free ID for those who cannot afford it, all proposed in House bills 89 and 210.

“This proposal is simply an attempt to manipulate the voting process for political purposes to address an issue which is not a major problem in Minnesota,” editorialized the Willmar, Minn. publication,West Central Tribune last week. “Minnesota should be encouraging voters to participate in the voting process, not making it harder and more difficult to vote.”

The Tribune noted that one of the House bills’ supporters, Rep. Bruce “Vogel could not cite any voter problem in west central Minnesota in justifying his support for the bill” when it was introduced in late January. “Yet he claims that the significant cost of this proposed voter ID bill is justified.”

But, to “solve a minimal problem in Minnesota” for a price of $20 million, the Tribune says, “this bill proposal simply does not compute.”

The House Bill 210 would also put an end to “vouching” for your neighbor to prove their residency when registering to vote on Election Day, one of many ways Minnesotans are able to be part of the democratic process up until the day of an election.

“Minnesota’s inclusive election policies have helped to build a strong culture of civic participation across the state,” says Project Vote’s Jennifer Jacquot-Devries, a Minnesota resident. “Enacting the proposed photo ID bill will only make voting more difficult for the very citizens we should be working to engage and empower.”


Shifting the Focus to Improving Voter Registration Access, Not Inhibiting It

In a democracy that can only boast that 71 percent of its citizens are registered and able to exercise their civic duty in any given election, access to the franchise is crucial.  For decades, millions of citizens have relied on either voter registration drives or government agencies to help them get on the voter rolls. Today, however, private voter registration drives are under attack, while some states are ignoring their responsibilities to reach unregistered citizens. If community-based drives are prevented from helping Americans get registered, and government agencies won’t help them, then who will?

In several states, elected officials and partisan groups are intent on stifling the proven effectiveness of voter registration drives run by private individuals and organizations. Despite the partisan-spun “scandals” that come with third-party voter registration drives, they are undeniably effective in reaching large portions of the population.

“According to the 2008 CPS, nearly 9 million citizens [or 8 percent] reported having registered ‘at a voter registration drive,’” wrote Doug Hess and Jody Herman in Project Vote report, Representational Bias in the 2008 Electorate. “This likely seriously undercounts the total impact of voter registration drives, however, as 9.4 million citizens (another 8 percent) reported that they registered ‘at a school, hospital, or on campus’—all locations where voter registration drives are often conducted by civic organizations and student groups.”

Another 9.7 million registered to vote through mail-in voter registration applications, many of whom presumably received these applications from voter drives or organizations that distributed the forms through the postal or electronic mail.

Voter registration drives are protected as a form of free speech under the First Amendment, as well as provisions under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (which directly protects and encourages community-run voter registration drives as the law’s primary purpose is to ensure more citizens are registered to vote). Yet lawmakers and election officials in states like Nevada are looking to regulate and criminalize voter registration drives so thoroughly, that they can create a “chilling effect on community-based voter registration, causing many organizations to curtail or cease their voter registration efforts.”

Other states are introducing regressive bills to halt otherwise effective means of registering voters. The opportunity to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time, or Election Day Registration, is available in nine states, most of which exhibit above-average voter participation rates.  Republican-backed efforts to do away with EDR are reportedly underway in Montana, New Hampshire, andWisconsin.

Perhaps the most noncontroversial and effective way to reach large numbers of historically underrepresented, low-income citizens lies in Section 7 of the NVRA, but nationwide compliance with this law is inconsistent.  The NVRA requires public assistance agencies that provide services to low-income residents to offer voter registration services to their clients. However, in states like Louisiana, voter registration cards collected at these agencies have declined by as much as 88 percent since implementation in 1995.

On Wednesday, Project Vote, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., and New Orleans attorney Ronald Wilson put Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler on notice for voting rights violations in the state.

The groups called on Schedler, the Dept. of Children and Family Services, and Dept. of Health and Hospitals, to take corrective action necessary to bring the state into compliance with the NVRA, citing evidence of the state denying numerous low-income residents of the opportunity to register to vote.

“In the past several years, lawsuits filed by Project Vote and other groups have forced other states that had been disregarding the NVRA to comply, with dramatic results,” according to the press release. “For example, applications from Missouri public assistance agencies skyrocketed, from fewer than 8,000 a year to over 130,000 a year, following settlement of a suit in that state in 2008. More than 200,000 low-income Ohioans have applied to register since a similar case was settled there in the end of 2009.”

Voter registration is the first, key step to getting involved in the democratic process. Whether provided by community-based groups or existing state and federal laws, lawmakers should focus on improving and fostering these methods of voter registration, not obstructing or ignoring them. Every eligible citizen should have equal access to the franchise in this country, and when millions rely on voter registration drives, government agency officials, and poll clerks on Election Day to provide that opportunity, we may want to rethink our approach to “fixing” the election system.

Fear Tactics Used to Promote Voter Suppression in 2011

This week, newly elected Republicans took office in several states, many of whom have big plans for the future of voting rights. Unfortunately, as we blogged and reported last month, these changes have little to do with actually assessing and improving state of elections. In fact, many of these officials used anti-immigration and voter fraud fear tactics to win their seats, and now are threatening to restrict access to the ballot via legislation or state ballot before 2012 elections.

There's more...

Newly Elected Minnesota Legislators Announce Intent to make Voting More Difficult

Cross-posted at Project Vote's blog, Voting Matters

Minnesota has some of the most progressive voter registration laws in the country, laws like same day registration and vouching, that are designed to maximize turnout and get as many voices as possible heard on Election Day. Some newly elected members of the Minnesota state legislature, however, have recently announced that they intend to repeal those laws as soon as they take office. These laws, they claim, leave the state vulnerable to voter fraud, so vulnerable they apparently must be repealed immediately, despite their obvious benefits.

Like Don Quixote charging at windmills, believing them to be monsters, these state legislators are gearing up to fight imaginary threats. Voter fraud, contrary to the media perception, is incredibly rare. According to a study by the nonpartisan group Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, only twenty-six people were convicted of voter fraud in Minnesota in 2008, all of them convicted felons who are restricted from voting. In other words, less than nine-ten thousandths of one percent of Minnesota voters (.0009 percent), were convicted of voter fraud in 2008. At the national level, a report by Dr. Lorraine Minnite, director of research at Project Vote and former assistant professor of American and urban politics at Barnard College, found that only 24 people were convicted of voter fraud between 2002 and 2005.

So, these state legislatures are trying to repeal laws that make it easier for all Minnesotans to vote, on the off-chance that repealing those laws might discourage some twenty-odd convicted felons from showing up on Election Day. Certainly, what little voter fraud there is should be prevented, but not at the cost of repealing laws that provide tremendous benefits to legitimate voters. In 2004, the six states with same day registration had turnout rates almost 12 percent above the national average, but the newly elected Minnesota legislators are more worried about the two dozen felons who might be voting illegally, than the thousands of legitimate voters who may be prevented from voting at all if these laws are repealed.

If the state legislatures want to fix elections in this country, if they want to protect the sanctity of the democratic process, they should not be focused on the .00009 percent of ineligible citizens who vote illegally--oftentimes unknowingly--due to criminal convictions. Instead, they should focus on reforming current law to allow non-incarcerated felons to automatically regain their right to vote and the 50-plus percent of eligible voters who did not even cast a ballot on Election Day, finding ways to increase turnout, not lower it.

Anthony Balady is a legal intern at Project Vote and second-year   student at William & Mary Law School. Mr. Balady also serves as vice   president of William & Mary’s Election Law Society and   editor-in-chief of its election law blog, State of Elections.

Two States Question the Impact of Strict Voter ID Laws

In most states, a citizen may register and vote after establishing four critical points: citizenship, age, residency, and, in some cases, felony conviction. However, at least eight states exceed these basic requirements by also requiring voters to present valid photo ID at the polls on Election Day. Now, with the midterm elections approaching, the necessity, efficiency, and even constitutionality of voter ID laws are being questioned once again.

This week, two states—one with an established (though controversial) voter ID law, and another that expects to officially debut its law in November—are met with questions about the laws’ impact on voters.

While Georgia’s high court ponders the constitutionality of its “oft-challenged” 2005 photo voter ID law, Idaho officials are reportedly focusing on the potentially harmful logistical issues of the state’s new law before its official debut in the November election.

Idaho’s voter ID procedure was tested last month in several county elections, but not without a hitch for voters, according to theAssociated Press Monday.

“It did slow things down a little bit,” said Deputy Secretary of State Tim Hurst to the AP.

The new law, which was modeled after South Dakota's voter ID law, requires poll workers to verify a voter's identity with picture ID. If the voter has no picture ID, he or she is supposed to be permitted to sign an affidavit; however, in its first year of implementation, South Dakota voters complained about being turned away rather than being offered the option of signing an affidavit.

Idaho officials say they are working to avoid this problem with public announcements and billboards detailing the new law.

“It’s always a concern that people waiting in long lines will get disgruntled and walk away…The counties are concerned about it too,” he said. “That’s why we’re trying to get the word out.”

But the concerns of voting rights advocate go beyond the issue of efficiency, since democracy can only be efficient if it is equally accessible.

“The primary concern is that the impact of photo ID requirements are particularly felt by elderly people, low-income people and often racial minorities,” said Project Vote Director of Advocacy Estelle Rogers in the AP report.

A 2006 survey by the Brennan Center for Justice found that as many as 21 million Americans were without valid photo identification that included current address or married name. That, coupled with the fact that there are about eight illegal votes out of millions per year, it is difficult even to justify the long lines and confusion on Election Day, let alone the potential disenfranchisement of eligible voters.

On Tuesday, Georgia’s highest court heard “a new type of legal challenge brought by the law's opponents,” according to theAssociated Press.

“Earlier efforts to block the law were filed in federal court and contended it violated voters' rights under the U.S. Constitution. But the latest case brought by the Democratic Party of Georgia claims the requirement violates the Georgia Constitution.”

In particular, the state Democratic Party asserts that Georgia residents have an “absolute right” to vote if they meet the qualifications expressed in the Georgia Constitution and have not been disqualified for the reasons set forth by the Constitution,specifically felony conviction relating to moral turpitude or the judicial determination of mental incompetence.

“Nowhere in the Georgia Constitution is the right to vote premised on the possession of an approved form of photo ID,” theappellant brief states.


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