For Immediate Release Voting Rights Groups Urge Carter-Baker Election Commission to Oppose National Voter Identification Card

Posted on June 29, 2005


This is a truncated version of a statement submitted to the Commission on Federal Election Reform; read the full statement here (PDF).

VOTING RIGHTS GROUPS URGE CARTER-BAKER ELECTION COMMISSION TO OPPOSE NATIONAL VOTER IDENTIFICATION CARD

"A remedy in search of a problem that could deny millions of eligible voters their right to vote."

NATIONAL- A group of civil and voting rights organizations issued the following statement today urging the recently-formed Commission on Federal Election Reform to reject any consideration of a national voter identification card. The Commission, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker III, is expected to discuss a national ID card recommendation at their June 30 hearing at the Baker Center in Houston, Texas.

We wish to express to the Commission our strong opposition to a national voter identification card system. The voting rights community believes that the adoption of a national voter ID card would likely result in the disfranchisement of millions of eligible voters and risk undermining basic privacy protections that are the hallmarks of American citizenship. In addition, a national voter ID card would prove exceedingly complex, costly and burdensome to implement and maintain.

Indeed, a national voter ID card would only frustrate the advances that Congress sought to achieve with the enactment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002. We urge the Commission to reject consideration of a national voter ID card system.

We oppose a national voter ID card for the following reasons:

A national voter ID card is a remedy in search of a problem.

Proponents of voter ID requirements often argue that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. The fact is there is zero evidence of widespread fraud among voters who personally appear at the polls. Hearsay and urban myth have taken the place of sound research during critical policy deliberations. An extensive inquiry into election fraud from 1992 to 2002, published in Demos' 2003 Securing the Vote report, found that its incidence is minimal across the fifty states and rarely affects election outcomes.

A more recent, exhaustive hunt for "thousands" of fraudulent votes in Washington State last year succeeded in uncovering six instances of double voting. Some in Ohio's statehouse alleged widespread voter fraud and abuse in 2004, but a survey of Ohio's 88 counties released by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the League of Women Voters of Ohio on June 14, 2005 unearthed just four instances of ineligible or fraudulent voting in the state's 2002 and 2004 general elections, out of 9 million votes cast.

A national voter ID card would create new barriers to voting.

Indiana, Georgia and Arizona have enacted new voter ID requirements in recent months that will suppress voting among eligible voters, particularly seniors, the poor, racial minorities, people with disabilities and urban residents. Members of these communities are least likely to own motor vehicles and possess a driver's license-the most commonly accepted form of identification. According to disability advocates nearly 10 percent of the 40 million Americans living with disabilities do not have a driver's license or other form of state-issued photo ID. A new study by the Employment and Training Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee finds that people of color and seniors in Wisconsin between the ages of 18 and 65 lack a driver's license at rates far higher than do white residents. In Georgia, the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons estimates that 36 percent of Georgia residents 75 or older do not possess a driver's license. A study conducted by a task force of the earlier Carter-Ford National Commission on Election Reform reported that 6 percent to 10 percent of the existing American electorate lacked any form of state ID in 2001.

State residents who do not drive and now need to obtain a state ID card in order to vote confront difficult, time-consuming and expensive challenges. The same can be expected should a national voter ID card become a necessary prerequisite for voting.

A national voter ID requirement will lead to discriminatory implementation.

The 2001 Carter-Ford National Commission on Election Reform found that identification provisions at the polls are selectively enforced. Even in places that do not require voters to show ID, poll workers are known to ask certain voters to prove their identity, in many cases demanding ID from minority voters but not whites.

A national voter ID card is legally questionable and challenges established voting rights law.

Voter ID requirements make it more difficult for citizens to exercise their right to vote and increase the chance that eligible, registered voters will be denied their fundamental right to cast a ballot. As such, they violate provisions of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.

Implementing a national voter ID card would be exceedingly complex and costly.

Introduction of a national voter ID card will replicate the extreme challenges that states now confront in implementing the new REAL ID Act. The bill, passed by Congress in May 2005, requires state DMVs to verify documents used to establish identity and produce federally uniform IDs by 2008-a Herculean task given that there are more than 14,000 types of birth certificates and personal documentation currently in circulation.

States or the federal government will likely need to spend billions of dollars to implement REAL ID. When it "goes live," the system's database will become an attractive target for identity thieves and others, imposing unknown but significant new security and maintenance costs. Congress has appropriated no funds for this system; where that money will come from is a mystery.

Similar threats and costs would come with a national voter ID system. But there is the potential for an additional, significant problem with a national voter ID: with a voting-age population of over 200 million individuals in the U.S., even an error rate of 1 percent could lead to the disfranchisement of 2 million voters.

An ID card system will lead to a slippery slope of surveillance, citizen monitoring and "internal passports."

A national ID card system, backed up by the full power of modern computer and database technology, could log the time and a person's specific location with every ID check. How long before office buildings, doctors' offices, gas stations, highway tolls, subways and buses incorporate the ID card into their security or payment systems for greater efficiency? The end result could be a nation where citizens' movements inside their own country are monitored and recorded through these "internal passports."

A national voter ID card system would significantly diminish freedom and privacy in the U.S. Once put in place, it is unlikely that such a system would be restricted to its original purpose. Social Security numbers, for example, were originally intended to be used only to administer the retirement program. But that limit has been routinely ignored and steadily abandoned over the past 50 years. A national voter ID system would threaten the privacy that Americans have always enjoyed and gradually increase the control that government and business wields over everyday citizens.

Given the growing technological and legislative threats to privacy, this is not a system that the U.S. should consider.

The Carter-Baker Commission should offer real solutions to real election problems.

This Commission speaks with a unique voice in the discussion about how the United States can build an electoral system that best responds to the will of the voters. It is therefore essential that in making recommendations, the Commission responds to the convincing evidence of pervasive problems facing American voters.

In so doing, it should offer policy recommendations or remedies that address real problems, and should not fuel an ill-informed state and national legislative debate on ID without a thorough evaluation of the impact it will have on voting rights and the electoral system in the U.S.

Although national voter ID cards have been successful in other countries, that success has often been possible due to centrally controlled, uniform election practices that are quite different from the decentralized, hyper-federalized system practiced in the United States.

We believe that Americans must have equal access to the political decision-making process, and request that this Commission recommend changes to the electoral system that will make it easier for all eligible citizens to have access to the ballot, instead of policy that will chip away at the progress this country has made in improving democracy by expanding the franchise.

Opposition to a national voter ID requirement in the United States is voiced by voting and civil rights organizations around the country, including the following groups that have signed a letter to the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform:

American Association of People with Disabilities, American Civil Liberties Union, Appleseed, Asian Law Alliance, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, Common Cause, Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund, Na Loio - Immigrant Rights and Public Interest Legal Center, National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association, National Asian, Pacific American Legal Consortium, National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems, National Conference of American Indians, National Voting Rights Institute, Native Vote Election Protection Program, New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy, People For the American Way, Project Vote, Rock the Vote, and South Asian American Voting Youth.

For more information: www.demos.org/voterid

Members of the press: experts are available for interviews and background briefings. To speak with one of the people listed here, please contact the corresponding organizational contact.

EXPERTS:

American Association for People with Disabilities: James Dickson, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, (202) 262-8240 or jamescdickson@earthlink.net

American Civil Liberties Union: Jay Stanley, Technology and Liberty Project, (202) 715-0818 or jstanley@aclu.org

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law: Wendy Weiser, Associate Counsel, Democracy Program, (212) 998-6130 or wendy.weiser@nyu.edu

Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action: Miles Rapoport, President and former Secretary of the State of Connecticut or Steven Carb�, Director of the Democracy Program. Contact Timothy Rusch at (212) 389-1407 or trusch@demos.org

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: Jonah Goldman, Staff Attorney, Voting Rights Project, (202) 662-8321 or jgoldman@lawyerscommittee.org

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Nina Perales, San Antonio Regional Counsel, (210) 224-5476

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard in the political process.

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