Congressional Forum Examines the Potential Impact of State Voter Registration Laws
November 18, 2011 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
At a Congressional forum this week, civil and human rights advocates warned about the potential for widespread voter suppression under recently adopted state voter registration laws.
Drawing on a recent Brennan Center study finding that laws in 14 states could restrict voting access for as many as 5 million Americans, participants at the forum raised the question of whether many of the new laws were targeted at keeping minorities, low-income people, youth, seniors, and persons with disabilities from voting.
“The lawmakers pushing these new measures claim they are a protection against an epidemic of voter fraud,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D. Md. “However, evidence for such widespread fraud does not exist. The evidence we do have points to a political agenda on the part of those who are crafting these new rules. The right to vote should and must not depend on the politics of the day but on eligibility.”
Laws requiring government-issued ID’s; reducing early and absentee voting; and restricting the voting rights of citizens with felony convictions are among the issues raising concerns.
During the forum, Lee and Phyllis Campbell, an elderly couple from Tennessee, talked about their experience in obtaining a required photo ID. Mr. Campbell said that upon going to the local Department of Motor Vehicles with his wife to get her photo ID, he was told that it would be much easier to pay an $8 fee and have the license reissued, rather than go through the process of getting the free photo ID he requested.
“I want to state right now that paying the $8 fee was not the question as we could easily afford that. The point was the state legislature in passing this law had emphasized that the photo was to be free. Otherwise, in my opinion the fee could be considered a poll tax,” said Mr. Campbell.
The forum, "Excluded from Democracy: The Impact of Recent State Voting Law Changes,” was chaired by Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., and widely attended by Democratic members, including Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver, D. Mo., and Reps. Jerrold Nadler, D. N.Y., Steve Cohen, D. Tenn., and Bobby Scott, D. Va.
Participants also included Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Elisabeth MacNamara, president, League of Women Voters; Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice, co-author of the report “Voting Law Changes in 2012;” Laura Murphy, director, American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office; Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Matthew Segal, co-founder and president of OUR TIME and former executive director of Student Association for Voter Empowerment.
The Leadership Conference and its coalition partners are working to prevent the enactment of additional laws restricting voting rights and will be mounting efforts to ensure that all eligible voters have the opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day.
“Thankfully, in securing the right to vote, the days of poll taxes, literacy tests, and brutal physical intimidation are behind us. But today’s efforts at disfranchisement, while more subtle, are no less pernicious,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on the Civil and Human Rights, in a statement submitted to the forum.
Watch coverage of the forum from C-SPAN: