NPR

Controversial Voter ID Laws Proposed Across The U.S.

More than two dozens states this year are considering new laws to require voters to show ID at the polls, despite the controversy around similar bills enacted last year. Efforts are under way to impose the requirements before the 2012 elections, although opponents are waging legal challenges and looking toward the U.S. Justice Department to bar implementation.

Transcript

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One fight that the president and Democrats are taking on: tighter regulations on voting. They say it targets racial minorities. New laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls sparked controversy last year, and there's much more to come. Opponents are challenging several new ID requirements in court. And more voter ID proposals are popping up in states across the country, as NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Iowa's Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz entered the fray last week. He offered a new plan to require voters to show photo ID after state lawmakers failed to pass an earlier bill.

MATT SCHULTZ: We know there's a loophole. Let's close it. When I go to bed at night, I lock my door and I set my security system - I don't leave it open. I care about the safety of my kids and my wife.

FESSLER: Schultz says the security of elections depends on knowing that voters are who they say are. In Minnesota, Republican lawmakers have also been busy. They've introduced a constitutional amendment to require government-issued photo ID. This would put the issue on the November ballot, bypassing the state's Democratic governor who vetoed a similar bill last year. And in Missouri, another photo ID measure is headed to the House floor. Republican Shane Schoeller, the sponsor, thinks it's a no-brainer.

STATE REPRESENTATIVE SHANE SCHOELLER: Photo ID is not uncommon anymore. Most folks use it when they go to the bank. They often use it when they board an airplane. And I can't think of a situation where you wouldn't want to make sure you're protecting the integrity of the process than when we vote.

FESSLER: In Virginia, New Hampshire, Illinois and elsewhere, lawmakers are debating ID requirements that some say are needed to prevent voter fraud. The National Conference of State Legislatures says voter ID bills are pending in at least 26 states, and this comes after the Justice Department blocked South Carolina's new ID law from taking effect, arguing that it would hurt minorities, who are less likely to have the required identification.

JUDITH BROWNE DIANIS: We've got to be really worried about the kinds of burdens that we're putting in place that really block people from the voting booth.

FESSLER: Judith Browne Dianis is co-director of the Advancement Project. It's one of several civil rights groups fighting the new laws. She's very worried about what's ahead.

DIANIS: We have seen these things sail through very quickly, and the fact that there are, you know, 10 of them that have already been proposed in January, we know that they have caught some momentum and that they're really trying to push them through before this election.

FESSLER: Her group and others dismiss arguments that the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud, which is rare. They think instead that Republicans want to discourage voters such as African-Americans, who tend to vote Democratic. Republicans say that's not the case. They note that voter ID laws have widespread public support.

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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Voting is every American's constitutional right. However, this basic right is in danger.

FESSLER: Which is one reason the League of Women Voters in Minnesota has prepared this ominous-sounding video to warn voters about the downside of voter ID, especially for the elderly and the poor. Laura Frederick Wang is the group's executive director.

LAURA FREDERICK WANG: It's difficult for a lot of people to understand that there's a significant number of eligible voters and our fellow citizens, many of whom have been voting for decades, who don't have the identification and also are going to have some barriers when it comes to getting the ID.

FESSLER: Barriers, such as not have a birth certificate or the money and transportation to get one. And in fact, among the new bills are some that are trying to address potential problems. In New Hampshire, lawmakers are looking at a Republican-sponsored compromise that would allow anyone without the required ID to simply sign an affidavit stating that they are who they say they are. That, says Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, would address one of his office's main concerns.

DAVID SCANLAN: That no qualified voter be turned away from voting at the polling place on the day of the election, and having their ballot count on the day of the election.

FESSLER: An in Tennessee, Republicans and Democrats have introduced legislation to soften the impact of that state's new law by expanding the types of government-issued photo ID that voters can use. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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