Outbursts And Accusations Presage Floor Battle To Come
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In the face of disapproval from dozens of public interest groups including the American Assocaition of Retired People and the League of Women Voters, Republican members of the Committee on House Administration have used their majority to recommend a bill that would require all voters to present documentation of citizenship and a government-issued photo ID in order to vote in 2008. Amendments calling for expanded forms of identification and making the implementation of the bill contingent on the results of a study done to determine the effect of such a requirement were rejected by the majority members of the Committee.
Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL, pictured at right) introduced "The Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006" (HR 4844) in March, and though it has only a handful of co-sponsors, it appears to be on the fast track to a floor vote as early as this week. HR 4844 would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require voters in every state to provide proof of citizenship and photo identification when registering to vote and when voting, has been recommended on a party line vote by the Committee on House Administration. The bill was substantially changed through an amendment in the form of a substitution by Committee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) The controversial proposal is certain to face immediate legal challenge should it become law.
Though Rep. Hyde has been a strong advocate of "states rights" throughout his tenure in the House, his bill would prohibit state and local election officials in every state from providing a ballot - even a provisional ballot - to any individual that did not present a current and valid photo identification to the official. The type of photo identification that would be accepted is not specified in the language of the bill. The bill would take effect in this November's elections.
The highly-charged atmosphere reached a boiling point when Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) shouted "It's outrageous to hear my colleagues sit there and say that the Republican Party is embarking on a move to suppress the vote of ethnic minorities throughout the country. That is blatantly false. I am not going to sit here and by my silence give any credence to that assertion. That's ridiculous." Ranking Democrat on the committee, Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald commented "Who is presenting the legislation here?"
The highly partisan battle over restrictive photo ID legislation is being fought in courtrooms in at least nine states. As the committee was meeting, federal courts in Missouri and Georgia were striking down similar state legislation requiring photo identification. In an article focusing on the nationwide debate, The Los Angeles Times reported that "hundreds of thousands of votes are potentially at stake in some of the most contested congressional races this year and the 2008 race for the White House"
The article went on to note that Republicans had great success enacting new laws after 2004, winning voter identification requirements in Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Arizona law, while adding the voter registration restrictions in Ohio and Florida. Democratic governors in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania each vetoed voter identification legislation approved by their Republican-led Legislatures, and the Michigan Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of a 1996 state law that has never been enforced but would require photo ID at the polls.
In his opening statement, Chairman Ehlers noted that at hearings on voter ID legislation held in DC as well as New Mexico and Arizona, "strong disagreements about the wisdom of imposing such a requirement" were revealed. "To some, this proposal is a simple, common sense proposal and a necessary safeguard against vote fraud. To others, it represents a dangerous threat to some citizens' ability to access the polls."
Rep. Ehlers cited a recent NBC/Wall street Journal poll showing that 81% of those surveyed favored an ID requirment for voting. While it was unclear how restrictive an ID requirement was being proposed in the poll, it is not surprising that a majority of Americans, with no understanding of the implications of such a requirement, would respond favorably. After all, most Americans have a driver's license. But even those without a drivers license have a right to vote.
Rep. Millender-McDonald responded "anyone who breaks the law by attempting to register to vote illegally should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. And we have adequate laws in place today to address this concern." she noted that "Non-citizens would be foolish to risj up to five years in prison and deportation to cast an illegal ballot." She decried "partisan attempts to burden our nation with troublesome proof of citizenship requirements are not the direction our Committee, or the country, should be heading. This Committee should be concentrating on ways to ensure all Americans that their ballots will be fully accounted for, and their votes will be accurately counted." Millender-McDonald continued forcefully "I believe that voter fraud is wrong. But we should not punish every American, especially the elderly, the disabled, or the poor, with expensive and overly burdensome requirements that address a "so-called" non-citizen voting strawman, which do nothing to increase civic participation."
The League of Women Voters, one a dozens of public interest groups opposing the bill wrote in a July press release "HR 4844 would turn back the clock and erect unnecessary barriers to voter participation. Many Americans simply do not have documentary proof of citizenship and photo ID that would allow them to exercise their right to vote if HR 4844 were to become law."
Though bearing the same title, HR 4844 is totally unrelated to Senator Frank Lautenberg's "Federal Election Integrity Act of 2005", (S. 391), a bill that would prohibit state election administration officials from actively participating in electoral campaigns.
Both Chairman Ehlers and Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI) cited the recommendation of the bi-partisan Commission on Federal Election Reform for a uniform nationwide voter identification card. We assume that their embrace of the Commission's report will also extend to recommendations for the requirement of a voter verified paper record of every vote, mandatory random manual audits, and the public disclosure of voting system software.
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