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CBC Hour: Voter Identification Laws

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HOLT. I thank my friend and colleague from Ohio.

I am pleased to come to the floor tonight to talk about a serious issue: whether the voice of the people will be heard. As citizens of this Nation, the voting franchise is not just our constitutional right; it is the right through which all other rights are secured, our primary voice in how this country is run. And right now around this Nation, there are people who are working actively to disenfranchise specific sectors of our citizenry.

How is this happening? Well, this year, in 38 States, there is legislation being considered or, in some cases, already approved to make it more difficult for citizens to register to vote, making it impossible to vote early, and to require identification that serves to eliminate or restrict voting for large numbers of people. Restrictions on voter registration have placed such burdens on groups organizing community-based voting drives--such as the League of Women Voters--that several organizations have suspended voter registration drives in some States due to the onerous nature of the legislation.

Now, if there were a threat of voter fraud as the proponents of these laws assert, it might make sense, but there is no threat of voter fraud. Are there rampant cases of impersonation, voting as someone else? No. Voter fraud is not rampant. There are not numerous cases of impersonation. There may be isolated instances, sure, of alleged voter fraud, but to disenfranchise millions of people because there are a few cases is really contrary to the American system of government.

In 23 States and the District of Columbia that allow voters to show both photo and nonphoto ID, such as a utility bill or a bank statement, there is no evidence of voter impersonation, no evidence that fraud is occurring. It's a phantom menace of fraud that is the basis for a well-funded movement around the country making it difficult for eligible voters to cast their votes.

Are photo ID laws prohibitive? Yes, they are. A recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice of NYU law school concluded that the newly enacted State laws affecting more than 5 million eligible voters will disproportionately disenfranchise young, low-income, elderly, and minority voters. In 2006, the Brennan Center completed a nationwide survey of voting-age citizens and found that African American voters are more than three times as likely as Caucasians to lack a government-issued photo ID.

Restrictions on registration, limits on early voting, and photo ID requirements at the polls all serve to discourage young, low-income, minority, and elderly voters from participating in their constitutional right to vote. Should they reach the polls and successfully cast their ballot, of course we have to ask whether their vote will be counted accurately.

In the past, literacy tests and poll taxes were used to selectively allow certain citizens to vote and to exclude others. Those laws were and are illegal. We should make sure that they remain illegal in the 21st century. 21st century poll taxes, which, in effect, these restrictions are, seek to suppress the voices of people who have a right to vote and whose voices should be recorded because we need their wisdom at the polls.

Now the motto should be, ``Everyone Counts.'' And there's much to be said--and we'll say this at another time--about making sure that every vote that is cast is counted. Election auditing can be used to ensure that voting errors are minimized, performing a check on the results recorded by electronic voting machines against a verifiable record, paper record of the vote.

But tonight we want to talk about the systematic disenfranchising of people who are citizens, who should be voting, and whom we should want to vote.

I am pleased that my friend has taken this time tonight, and I am certainly pleased to join you.


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