Dan Tokaji's Blog
Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Monday, September 18
House to Consider Hyde Vote Suppression Bill
The U.S. House of Representatives is set to debate a bill that would have a devastating impact upon the right to vote. The Hill has this report on H.R. 4844, sponsored by Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) and euphemistically labelled the "Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006." The bill was approved by the House Administration Committee on a party line vote. The text of the bill may be found here and my prior thoughts on the bill are here.

While I try to use such forceful terms as "vote suppression" with great care, there is no other way to describe a bill that would prevent people from voting unless they present documents that many do not have. Voters would also be required to produce "government-issued, current, and valid photo identification," something that many people also lack. In Wisconsin, for example, only 22% of black males between 18- 24 had a driver's license.

Perhaps most disturbing is the utter lack of evidence that proponents have produced to show that the bill is needed. At the hearing on the bill that I attended back in June, the most that proponents could assert is that 35 foreign nationals attempted to register -- some of them people who had applied for, but not yet obtained, American citizenship -- in Harris County, Texas, a jurisdiction with some 1.9 million voters. This amounts to one ineligible voter registered for every 54,285 eligible voters. By contrast, the available evidence suggests that about 6-10% of voters lack photo ID, and that a disproportionate number of them are elderly, disabled, minority, and poor people.

What seems to be fueling this bill is not voter fraud at all, but a mixture of political gamesmanship and immigrant-bashing. It is no surprise, then, that citizen groups are steadfastly opposed to the bill, including the League of Women Voters and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The Leadership Conference's letter to Congress highlights how ironic it would be for the House, less than two months after reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, to enact a bill suppressing voting rights. As they put it:
The requirement that all voters present a photo ID before being able to cast a regular ballot will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, rural and Native voters, the homeless, low-income people, and married women, who are less likely to carry a photo ID. Photo ID requirements also build an enormous amount of discretion into the balloting process, thus creating opportunities for discrimination at the polls against racial, ethnic, and language minority voters.
I nevertheless expect the House to pass this bill, though I hope I am wrong. The best hope for defeating this shameful piece of legislation seems to lie in the Senate.

UPDATE: The bill was amended in committee to delete the registration requirements. The new language, which was not available at the time of my prior post, has now been posted here. I've amended my description of the bill above to reflect those changes.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University