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Cross-Posted at Project Vote’s Voting Matter’s Blog
Weekly Voting Rights News Update
by Erin Ferns
Nationwide, budget concerns seem to be rendering most of this year’s threatening election reform proposals impassable. However, that does not prevent these measures from perpetuating the irrational distrust in elections (and voters) that come with restrictive voter ID and voter registration proposals. Instead of focusing on resolutions that would create more transparency in election administration without disenfranchising voters, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Minnesota, Mississippi and Texas made headlines for their battles to move voter ID laws last week, while two more states are discussing bills that would negatively impact young voters.
Claiming voter ID is “about integrity,” Minnesota voter ID advocates push House Bill 57, despite criticisms that the issue of voter fraud is “statistically insignificant to the point of being nonexistent,” according to the Minneapolis Daily Planet. In addition to the danger of disenfranchising low income and minority voters, opponents fear that the provisions described in the bill could be costly for the state, and could hurt provisional voters as past elections show only one-third of provisional ballots are actually counted.
“The problems we have seen in Minnesota’s current election system are frequently a result of unnecessarily complicated systems that allow multiple opportunities for error. This bill adds another layer of responsibility and complication,” said Keesha Gaskins, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Minnesota.
While studies have consistently showed that voter purging from faulty list maintenance procedures, varying provisional voting rules, and overzealous election challenger laws compromise election integrity and disenfranchise legitimate voters more than the rare crime of voter impersonation, little effort has been made to resolve these flaws in the administration of elections, and voter ID proposals continue to dominate election reform discussions across the country.
Perpetuating the myth of voter fraud, and perhaps taking advantage of hysterical media exposure on the controversial issue over the last year, Mississippi Senator Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall) is trying to take the voter ID fight away from legislators and into the hands of voters. Democratic lawmakers, who have “relented to a degree in their opposition” to voter ID, question Fillingane’s motives since voter ID legislation- amended to exclude elderly voters or expand the list of acceptable ID – is finally moving through the Legislature, according to the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. “Fillingane has one year from Feb. 11 to gather the signatures,” though he has reportedly not organized a petition campaign.
At least one media outlet in Texas, and voting rights advocates in Oklahoma, have spoken out against pending voter ID bills in their states with a common theme that the measures are, at best, pointless.
The League of Women Voters of Norman, Okla. said the proposed laws were “discriminatory” and “not in the public interest” in a Norman Transcript opinion piece on Saturday. “Oklahoma has one of the fairest and most efficient election systems in the nation. There is no evidence that voter fraud is or is likely to become a problem here. Oklahoma voters would be better served by focusing on the real issue — maintaining the integrity of our fine state elections process.”
The Waco Tribune-Herald in Texas, while dismissing opponents’ argument that voter ID is a “defacto poll tax,” also criticized voter ID supporters’ arguments that illegal voters are diluting legitimate votes. “That, coupled with the fact some in Texas’ emerging Hispanic population see this as racist, leaves us to wonder: Doesn’t the Texas Legislature have more important business to do, especially when few instances of such fraud have actually been found?”
Fear of voter fraud is also being used to promote a reform regulating voter registration procedures in Georgia and to discourage a measure to expand the list of acceptable voter ID in Indiana. Both reforms appear to have an impact on young citizens – a consistently underrepresented constituency in the U.S. electorate.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, which faces serious budget issues, lawmakers are trying to put the spotlight on a bill to limit voter registration drives, according to local publication, the Albany Herald. Calling it a “proactive approach,” or a reform to stop a voter fraud problem before it starts, lawmakers in Georgia hope to pass H 225, or at the very least “make a splash” in the legislature.
The bill would restrict unregistered voters from handling voter registration cards or conduct voter registration drives in the state.
“One of the objections bill sponsors have encountered as they’ve debated the measure is wording that would allow only registered voters to take part in voter registration drives. That would eliminate participation by Georgians under the age of 18,” the Herald reported. Fear of voter fraud is nothing new to the state, which currently practices a strict photo ID law and has moved at least two bills to require voters to submit proof of citizenship before registering to vote this session.
Indiana, another state that requires photo voter ID, has stalled a bill to expand the list of acceptable ID to include student identification out of fear that it would “weaken current law.” The state made headlines during the 2008 primary and general elections when numerous students were turned away from the polls for not meeting the state’s requirement of current, state-issued photographic ID.
“How much is too much to ensure the integrity of our electoral process?” asked Minnesota Republican state representative and voter ID supporter, Tom Emmer. If paying the price of legitimate votes and complicating election administration in order to prevent a virtually hypothetical crime is not considered “too much,” another question should be asked. How integral is democracy when it comes to election integrity?
Minnite, Lorraine. “The Politics of Voter Fraud.” Project Vote. March 2007.
In Other News:
House OKs registration, voting on the same day – Associated Press
New Mexicans could register to vote at early voting sites and cast a ballot on the same day under legislation approved by the House.
Judge blasts law as vote-fraud prober is paid – Cincinnati Enquirer
Hamilton County taxpayers will pay almost $15,000 to a special prosecutor who investigated allegations of voter fraud, an effort that a judge said Wednesday was a futile exercise and waste of money because of Ohio law.