By Senator Ben Cardin
As the Republicans gather in Tampa this week to assess how they think they can win back the White House, activists are sure to be boasting about their supposed "successes" suppressing the vote in important states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Ohio. Make no mistake about it: what's being done around the country with voter ID laws, changing requirements for voter registration and attempts to alter the time polls are open in certain locations are blatant attempts to suppress voter participation among eligible voters who are more likely to vote for President Obama. It is simply outrageous.
I think people run for office because they want to do the right thing. Intentionally suppressing voters is as far from that as you can get. I think the Republicans just don't get it. Or maybe they get it too well.
The act of voting is a right -- not a privilege -- in our country. American men and women have fought and died to defend and to exercise their right to vote. What Republicans are doing across the country is a blatant violation of the civil rights of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.
Many of the state voter ID laws that have passed in recent months disproportionately target young, low-income, African American and Latino voters, in addition to senior citizens, who for a variety of economic and logistical reasons are not able to obtain the proper ID to vote. Since the Civil War Congress has enacted numerous voting rights measures and constitutional amendments to prohibit racial discrimination in access to the ballot box, including making poll taxes illegal.
These new requirements can only be described as a poll tax for eligible voters that do not have easy transportation to the nearest state ID-issuing office, or who cannot afford the fees for documents needed to obtain a government ID. Recent studies have shown that nationally about 8 percent of White voting age citizens lack a government-issued ID, and the number rises to 25 percent of African-American voting age citizens.
If we had such laws in Maryland (thankfully, we do not), consider that in Baltimore City alone, 34 percent of adults over 18 do not have a state-issued driver's license. And in Somerset County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where more than 42 percent of the population is African American, 37 percent of adults over 18 do not have a Maryland license. These are the voters Republicans want to stay home on Election Day.
Generally, I believe that we should do everything we can to limit voter fraud, but when a Texas gun license is sufficient to vote, but a student ID from a state school is not, something is very wrong.
Why are these voter ID laws being enacted when there is little evidence of voter fraud at the polls? And why are the courts allowing such laws to proceed when there is documentation that these laws will prohibit more eligible voters from voting than stop undocumented fraud from ever happening? The answer is not pretty.
The only rational answer is that -- lacking ideas to move this country forward and stuck with a lackluster candidate -- Republicans have resorted to a sheer numbers game to lower the threshold back to power and the White House. Such disturbing actions serve only to limit democracy, not strengthen it. This is true voter fraud, and it cannot be allowed to succeed.
In a democracy, we should want as many people to vote who are eligible. For that reason, as soon as Congress reconvenes, I plan to join with Congressman John Conyers and others by introducing a Senate version of legislation to designate September as a National Month of Voter Registration.
In every state and every city and town, we need to ensure that voters have the knowledge they need to navigate the myriad of misguided laws now on the books. The resolution calls for encouraging "every voting age citizen to: register to vote, confirm their voting information is correct, confirm they have the proper documents in hand for Election Day, and confirm their polling place."
In addition, I encourage everyone to sign the petition we've launched a petition at www.defendourvote.com so that we can make our voices heard on this important issue.
I urge the Republicans in Tampa and around the country to disavow and delegitimize the individuals and groups responsible for promulgating legal obstacles to voting. Instead, they should join with us to work to guarantee that everything possible is done to break down barriers and increase valid voter participation. This is the way to win an election.