With voter ID laws popping up in Republican-controlled statehouses across the country, could a federal bill be far off?
According to data from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, at least 27 state-level voter ID bills — from Alaska and Arizona to Wisconsin and West Virginia — have been proposed in recent months.
“It’s unbelievable, probably half the states in the country have bills in play and more than a dozen are seriously in the pipeline,” Tova Wang of the left-leaning think tank Demos told TPM in an interview. “It’s really unprecedented in terms of geographic scope. I’ve never seen anything like it certainly since I’ve been working on voting rights issues that voter suppression bills would be introduced in so many places at the same time.”
“Definitely students are a target here. It’s totally clear to me that you saw in 2008 this unprecedented historic turnout among African-Americans, Latinos and young people — and those happen to be the exact groups of people that are being targeted by these laws to disenfranchise them, and that’s really sad,” Wang said.
Wang said the most restrictive bills are in Ohio and Wisconsin, which Wang said require identification issued by the DMV. “Perhaps most interestingly, it doesn’t even include student ID even from schools that are public universities,” she said.
“This apparently concerted effort on the part of Republicans in state legislatures nationwide to effectively suppress voting is as disturbing as it is un-democratic,” said Carolyn Fiddler, spokesperson for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, an arm of the Democratic Party charged with boosting the number of Democrats in state governments. “Additionally, these restrictive measures are often costly and do nothing to balance state budgets and create jobs, which are the top priorities in statehouses across the country right now.”
So with Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, could a federal bill be far off? That’s what Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-TX) indicated in an interview with KTXS News. But Neugebauer spokesman Matt Crow told TPM the congressman “misspoke” and that there was “no such bill on the horizon.”
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), chairman of House Subcommittee on Elections, held a hearing this week to examine reports of voting by non-citizens and raised the specter of voter fraud.
“Congress often focuses on increasing access to voter registration — making it easier for everyone to participate in elections,” Harper said in a statement. “And that is a goal that we must continuously pursue; however, we must also ensure that easing access to voter registration isn’t also, inadvertently, increasing vulnerabilities to voter fraud.”
“We simply cannot have an electoral system that allows thousands of non-citizens to violate the law and vote in our elections,” Harper said. “We must do more to protect the integrity of our electoral processes.”
Hans von Spakovsky, the former Bush Justice Department official and current senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation who supports voter ID laws, told TPM he hasn’t heard of any proposals yet.
“That’s news to me, unless something’s been introduced recently that I missed,” von Spakovsky said. “I think it would be a great idea to do that for federal elections, but on the other hand they have other serious problems to deal with too, like an overwhelming federal deficit.”
It’s not entirely clear if there is one force driving the spread of voter ID bills in statehouses across the country. Campus Progress reported last month that the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) drafted and distributed model legislation that “appears to be the inspiration for bills proposed by state legislators this year and promoted by Tea Party activists.”
At the True the Vote conference last weekend, president Catherine Engelbrecht said that von Spakovsky had been criss-crossing the country talking to state legislatures about voter ID laws. But von Spakovksy told TPM that wasn’t quite right.
“I haven’t been lobbying anybody, I was invited by the Pennsylvania state government committee to testify at a hearing last Monday,” von Spakovsky said. “I had gotten some prior invitations from some other state committees. I’ve just been going in when I’ve been asked to come in as a witness to testify about voter ID and the law and court decisions about it.”
Democrats face an uphill battle in convincing the American public why voter ID laws can be problematic. As Aaron Blake points out, polls show that the majority of Americans support voter ID bill — Fox found 83 percent approved of such laws in 2009, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll put the number at 81 percent in 2006.
Late Update: Harper’s office sent over this statement to TPM:
While I generally support voter identification requirements, I would have to see the specifics of any proposal before pledging my support. I’m a proponent of giving states the flexibility to implement the requirements that best meet their needs, but I am also concerned with the processes certain states are implementing to maintain and verify their voter registration rolls.