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Public Statements

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007--Continued

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM ACT OF 2007--Continued -- (Senate - May 24, 2007)

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AMENDMENT NO. 1170 TO AMENDMENT NO. 1150

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I thank my friend from Massachusetts.

I ask unanimous consent that the pending amendment be laid aside, and I call up amendment No. 1170.

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the reading of the amendment be dispensed with.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

The amendment is as follows:
(Purpose: to amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to require individuals voting in person to present photo identification)

At the appropriate place, insert the following:

SEC. __X. IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENT.

(a) New Requirement for Individuals Voting in Person.--

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Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, Members on both sides have voiced a
lot of legitimate concerns about the immigration bill that we brought to the floor earlier this week, which is precisely what we were hoping for when we decided to move forward with it. We needed to air things out. Many of our Republican colleagues have rightly focused on border security and their concern that people who have broken the law can somehow get away with it under the proposed legislation.

As we have debated this issue on the floor, the American people have spoken very loudly. Phones have been ringing off the hooks. If we have settled anything this week, it is that Americans are not shy about expressing their views on immigration. It is my hope this debate will move forward until every apprehension will be addressed.

Now I wish to voice a concern of my own. The Constitution says: All persons born or naturalized in the United States are citizens, and are therefore free to vote. As a corollary, we have always maintained that no one who is not a citizen has a right to vote. But in order to preserve the meaning of this pledge, we need to make sure the influence of those who vote legally is not diluted by those who do not; those who do not abide by the laws are not free to influence our political process or our policies with the vote.

As we move forward on this immigration bill, we need to make sure we protect voters, protect the 15th amendment by strengthening protections against illegal voting. This is the principal concern, but it is also practical.

The fundamental question we have been debating this week is what to do about the fact that 12 million people in this country are here illegally. We would have to go back more than two decades to find a Presidential election in this country in which 12 million votes would not have tipped the balance in the other direction.

Only citizens have the right to choose their elected representatives. Regardless of what we decide to do about these 12 million, those who are not here legally and are not citizens should not have the ability to upend the will of the American people in a free and fair election. This is not fantasy. It was reported last week that hundreds of noncitizens in and around San Antonio have registered to vote over the past several years. Most are believed to be here illegally and many are thought to have cast votes.

We have no reason to believe this practice, if true, is not being replicated in other cities and towns all across our country. So the question is: Given the current reality, how do we safeguard the integrity of the voting system? If these millions were eventually to become citizens, how do we propose to make sure their vote counts, that it isn't diluted?

Now the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform, founded after the 2004 election and spearheaded by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State Jim Baker, has already addressed the problem. Here you see President Carter and former Secretary Jim Baker together addressing this issue as they cochaired the Federal Election Reform Commission. That report said, quite simply, election officials need to have a way to make sure the people who show up at the polls are the ones on the voter lists.

I cannot think of anyone who would disagree with that. The solution the commission proposed, the Carter-Baker Commission, is the same one I am proposing today as an amendment to the immigration bill.

In our country, photo IDs are needed to board a plane, to enter a Federal building, to cash a check, even to join a wholesale shopping club.

In a nation in which 40 million people change addresses each year, in which a lot of people don't even know their neighbors, some form of Government-issued tamperproof photo ID cards should be used in elections as well. If they are required for buying bulk toothpaste, they should be required to prove one's identity, to prove that someone actually has a right to vote and a right to influence the laws and policies of our country. We need to ensure those who are voting are the same people on the rolls and that they are legally entitled to vote. ID cards would do that. They would reduce irregularities dramatically and, in doing so, they would increase confidence in the system.

We have all been through elections where groups of voters questioned the results based on rumors of coercion or fraud. Photo IDs would substantially limit this kind of voter skepticism and loss of faith in the political process.

Consistent with the purpose and the aim of the 15th amendment, we don't want anyone who has the right to vote to have any difficulty acquiring an ID. This amendment addresses this concern by establishing a grant program for those who cannot afford a photo ID. People who qualify will be provided one for free, no cost. No less an advocate for poor Americans than Ambassador Andrew Young has said photo IDs would have the added benefit of helping those who don't have drivers licenses or other forms of official ID to navigate an increasingly computerized culture. Photo IDs would make it easier to cash checks, rent movies, or gain access to other forms of commerce that are closed to people who don't have them.

An overwhelming majority of Americans support this attempt to ensure the integrity of our elections. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last year showed 26 percent of respondents strongly favored requiring a universal tamperproof ID at the polls. Nineteen percent said they mildly favored the IDs. You can do the math, Mr. President. That is 80 percent of the American people think this is a good idea. On issues in America, 80/20 is about as good as it gets. Twelve percent were neutral and didn't have an opinion at all, only 3 percent mildly opposed, and 4 percent opposed. So let's add those together. We are talking about 80 to 7, with the rest of Americans not having a view. Ninety-three percent of those who were asked for their opinion were either undecided or in favor of implementing this control. State polls show similar results. Americans are clearly divided on what to do with illegal immigrants in our communities, but they seem to agree on the benefit of an ID.

Members from both sides of the aisle agree we need to address voting irregularities. The junior Senator from Illinois is sponsoring a bill that would stiffen penalties for preventing someone from exercising his or her right to vote. He has already drawn 12 Democratic cosponsors. The bill is meant to respond to a problem we all recognize and which we should do something about by requiring photo ID for voters. Two dozen States already require--that is 24 States--some form of identification at the polls.

As a result of the Help America Vote Act, photo ID is required for those who register to vote by mail but who can't produce some other identifying document. What I would like to do is to provide a Federal minimum standard that is consistent but which allows States wide flexibility in determining the kind of ID that is required. It doesn't have to be a driver's license. It could be a hunting or fishing license. Either way, we would be ensuring for the first time the same verification standards from rural Iowa to Dade County, FL. This would be one of the surest steps we could take to protect the franchise rights of every American citizen in a fast-changing and increasingly mobile society.

The promise of America is that every law-abiding citizen has an equal stake in the political process and should be treated equally under the law. The most concrete expression of this right is the right to vote. It is a right that has been at the core of our democracy for more than a century, and whenever it has been deprived at the local level, we strengthen it federally. We need to strengthen it again now as part of our effort to reform America's immigration laws. Stronger borders would do nothing to prevent noncitizens who are already here from abusing the system further through illegitimate voting. To protect franchise rights of all born and naturalized citizens, we need to harden antifraud protections at the polls. For the sake of the citizen who is already here and for those who dream of becoming citizens in the future, this amendment is an important step in the right direction.

I yield the floor.


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