Congress spars over proliferation of new state voting laws

Last week Mainers voted overwhelmingly to retain the state’s Election Day Registration law. The vote sets up an interesting debate over a bill held over last session that would require voters to show a photo ID at polling places.

The Legislature’s now failed attempt to repeal EDR and its consideration of voter ID was not unique to Maine. Many states have introduced similar measures, leading some to argue that the movement is part of Republican efforts to restrict ballot access and gain an electoral advantage in 2012.

The debate has spread to Congress where Democrats are calling on Republican-controlled House of Representatives to hold hearings on the proliferation of voter ID laws. The ensuing debate will sound familiar to Mainers who paid attention to the EDR referendum.

Republicans argue that the new laws are necessary to protect the integrity of the ballot box. Democrats say the bills are designed to curb voting by Democratic-leaning constituencies such as minorities and the poor.

From a report in The Hill:

"There is no threat of voter fraud," Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) said. "Are there rampant cases of impersonation, voting as someone else? No. Voter fraud is not rampant, there are not numerous cases of impersonation."

Holt added that there may be some isolated cases of voter fraud, but said these do not demand solutions that could disenfranchise millions of voters.

Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) said vote ID laws are excessive because while it is true photo IDs are needed for various other reasons, voting is a right that cannot be taken away and should not be limited with this sort of condition.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) spoke toward the end of the Democrats’ special order speech by repeating that voter fraud is a nonexistent problem.

"They claim we need to crack down the epidemic of voter fraud that does not exist," he said of those who support the state laws. "There is simply no evidence of widespread voter fraud."

But in his own special order speech, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) rejected these arguments and said the scandal involving the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), in which the group admitted to fraudulently registering hundreds of thousands of voters, should count as widespread fraud.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, new voting bills were considered in more than 30 states during the 2011 legislative session. Sixteen states passed such legislation. The bills included “showing proof of citizenship when registering to vote; eliminate the right to register to vote and to submit a change of address within the same state on Election Day; shorten the time allowed for early voting; make it more difficult for third-party organizations to conduct voter registration; rollback laws restoring the right to vote for people with criminal convictions; and eliminate a mandate on poll workers to direct voters who go to the wrong precinct.”