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Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Let me echo Senator Kennedy's strong opposition to the amendment offered by the Senator from Kentucky.

There is no more fundamental right accorded to United States citizens by the Constitution than the right to vote. And the unimpeded exercise of this right is essential to the functioning of our democracy. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to certain citizens in their ability to exercise this right.

For a large part of our Nation's history, racial minorities have been prevented from voting because of barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes, and property requirements.

We have come a long way in the last 40 years. That was clear just a few weeks ago when Democrats and Republicans, Members of the Senate and the House, stood on the Capitol steps to announce the introduction of a bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. That rare and refreshing display of bipartisanship reflects our collective belief that more needs to be done to remove barriers to voting.

Right now, the Senate is finishing a historic debate about immigration reform. It has been a difficult discussion, occasionally contentious. And it has required bipartisan cooperation. After several weeks, and many, many amendments, we are less than an hour away from voting for cloture. Considering our progress and the delicate balance we are trying to maintain, this amendment could not come at a worse time.

Let's be clear, this is a national voter identification law. This is a national voter identification law that breaks the careful compromise struck by a 50-50 Senate 4 years ago. It would be the most restrictive voter identification law ever enacted, one that could quite literally result in millions of disenfranchised voters and utter chaos at the State level.

Now, I recognize there is a certain simplistic appeal to this amendment. After all, why shouldn't we require people to present a photo identification card when they vote? Don't we want to ensure that voters are actually who they claim to be? And shouldn't we at least make sure that noncitizens are not casting ballots and changing the outcomes of elections?

There are two problems with that argument. First, there has been no showing that there is any significant problem of voter fraud in the 50 States. There certainly is no showing that noncitizens are rushing to try to vote. This is a solution in search of a problem. The second problem is that historically disenfranchised groups--minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled--are most affected by photo identification laws.

Let me give you a few statistics. Overall, 12 percent of voting-age Americans do not have a driver's license, most of whom are minorities, new U.S. citizens, the indigent, the elderly, or the disabled. AARP reports that 3.6 million disabled Americans have no driver's license.

A recent study in Wisconsin found that white adults were twice as likely to have driver's licenses as African Americans over 18. A study in Louisiana found that African Americans were four to five times less likely to have photo identification than white residents.

Now, why won't poor people be able to get photo identifications or REAL IDs? It is simple: Because it costs money. You need a birth certificate, passport, or proof of naturalization, and that can cost up to $85. Then you need to go to a State office to apply for a card. That requires time off work, possibly a long trip on public transportation, assuming there is even an office near you.

Imagine if you only vote once every 2 or 4 years, it is not very likely you are going to take time off work, take a bus to a far-off government office to get an identification, and pay $85 just so you can vote. That is not something most folks are going to be able to do.

The fact of the matter is, this is an idea that has been batted around, not with respect to immigration, but with respect to generally attempting to restrict the approach for people voting throughout the country. This is not the time to do it.

The Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform found that in the 2002 and 2004 elections, fraudulent votes made up .00003 percent of the votes cast. That is a lot of zeros. So let me say it a different way: Out of almost 200 million votes that were cast during those elections, 52 were fraudulent. To put that in some context, you are statistically more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent vote in a Federal election.

This is not the appropriate time to be debating this kind of amendment. We have a lot of serious issues to address with respect to immigration. I ask all my colleagues to reject this amendment so we can move on to the important business at hand.


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