Voter ID legislation faces opposition in Congress
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WASHINGTON -- Voters' rights advocates are asking congressional liberals to stymie state voter ID requirements, which they contend are part of a political effort to disenfranchise poor and minority voters, who tend to be Democrats.
Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau, urged lawmakers to support a bill introduced last week that would prohibit poll workers from requiring photo identification. Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the legislation could prevent enforcement of legislation now under consideration in Pennsylvania and 26 other states.
Mr. Shelton's comments came during a hearing convened Monday by a contingent of congressional Democrats.
In Harrisburg, state legislators are wrangling over whether work IDs, college IDs and expired driver's licenses should be among the kinds of identification accepted under the proposed law. Current law requires only first-time voters to show an identification card, firearms permit, utility bill, bank statement or paycheck showing name and address.
Sponsored by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, the legislation would require Pennsylvania voters to show a photo ID every time they cast a ballot.
Mr. Metcalfe and other supporters of the measure have said they aim to protect the integrity of all votes by weeding out fraudulent ones. But opponents said voter fraud is too rare to justify an identification requirement they say would be costly and cumbersome for many.
Seven states have enacted voter ID laws, and 27 others are considering it, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Nationwide, states this year passed a record number of bills restricting access to voting, the study shows.
Testifiers in Washington Monday spoke out against voter ID requirements as well as new laws in some states that shortened early-voting periods, eliminated same-day registration and authorized levies against third parties who help with voter registration but fail to submit paperwork quickly enough.
Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters, testified that her group's Florida affiliates have stopped offering registration services because the risk of fines became too high and the requirements too cumbersome. She called new voter laws in Florida and other states "new and insurmountable barriers to the polls ... [that] threaten to silence the voices of those least heard and rarely listened to in this country."
U.S. Rep Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., called the bid "a concerted effort to disenfranchise millions of voters ... for political purposes."
Panelists asked lawmakers to pass uniform federal laws to protect voting rights and to pressure the Department of Justice to enforce provisions of the Voting Rights Act that prohibit discrimination.
First Published November 15, 2011 12:00 am