House Passes Bill Requiring I.D.

Will this legislation reduce fraud or suppress votes?

People are required to provide photo identification in many situations. Banking; credit card transactions; and purchases of liquor, tobacco, and marriage licenses are just a few. Should voting be another?

According to Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the answer is yes.

Shortly before its autumn recess, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Federal Elections Integrity Act by a vote of 228-196. Sponsored by Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the legislation, which has not yet passed in the Senate, will require registered voters to present photo identification to cast ballots beginning in 2008. In 2010, voters will also be required to show proof of U.S. citizenship.

According to the bill’s supporters, the legislation will eliminate voter fraud among illegal aliens. Hyde’s released statement says: “By putting in place procedures that ensure voting is limited to eligible citizens, we can encourage participation and increase turnout.”

But according to the bill’s opponents, it will have the opposite effect. “I view the photo ID as another means to suppress the vote in low-income and minority communities,” says CBC member Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio). “This whole push to keep supposedly non-U.S. residents from voting — in the name of fighting terrorism and dealing only with U.S. citizens — is a smokescreen. The ID requirement is akin to a 21st-century poll tax.”

Hilary Shelton, who heads the NAACP’s Washington Bureau, says the extra steps and costs associated with proving citizenship will deter many voters. “Most people here without documentation are not risking detection by going to the polls,” he says. “Today, only 25% of voting age Americans have a passport.”

Although the legislation calls for a sliding fee scale and for funding to provide free identification to those who cannot afford it, Shelton and Jones say these provisions will make no difference.

A Republican staffer, speaking off the record, admits there’s been little evidence

of illegal aliens attempting to vote. “But the issue is, we don’t really know. Opponents say [the bill] is a solution in search of a problem. But the argument’s kind of cyclical because it’s hard to define what the problem is when basically all you have to do to register to vote is check a box.”

According to political analyst Michael Fauntroy, an assistant professor at George Mason University, the legislation’s focus is misdirected. “I’m wondering if we’re spending too much time worrying about something that’s not much of a problem. The people pushing this legislation are getting folks to focus on fraud [by noncitizens] as opposed to the fraud of not counting all the votes,” says Fauntroy. “It’s important to distinguish between voter registration fraud and actual voting fraud.”

Citing a 2005 report from the League of Women Voters of Ohio that found only four fraudulent votes out of 9 million cast in 2002-2004, he adds, “All this talk of ferreting out voter fraud is creating a boogeyman that doesn’t really exist.”

Seventeen states already require voters to show some form of ID; seven more require a photo ID. But some of these requirements are being contested or have been found unconstitutional.

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