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Partisan Motivation Behind Voter ID Laid Bare
Though evidence suggests laws requiring photo ID at the polls will suppress votes from Democratic constituencies like students and people of color, voter ID supporters have long claimed the laws are merely a nonpartisan, common sense effort to promote "election integrity." But recent developments in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin show that Republicans are counting on voter ID laws to deliver the presidency to Mitt Romney in 2012.
"Voter ID is going to allow Gov. Romney to win"
This week, the House Majority Leader in the Pennsylvania Congress, Rep. Mike Turzai (R), made headlines when he explained the reasoning behind the state's new law requiring certain forms of ID at the polls. Voter ID, he explained bluntly, "is going to allow Gov. (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
"This is outrageous, but it confirms why the Republican governor and Republican legislature rammed this bill through into law. Pennsylvania already had sufficient safeguards in place to protect against voter impersonation, but apparently they weren't strict enough to suppress legitimate Democratic voters. This new law could deny tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians their constitutional right to vote -- just for partisan purposes. We need to make voting easier, not harder. This is a matter of basic civil rights," Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Frankel, (D), said in a statement.
Pennsylvania was one of sixteen states to pass voter ID laws since 2010 that impose new burdens on the right to vote, with fifteen of those states passing the laws mostly along party lines. A study from the Brennan Center found approximately 5 million people nationally do not have the state-issued IDs that the new laws require. Many of these laws echo a model Voter ID Act approved by the corporate and legislative members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
GOP Bankrolling Legal Case Reveals Stark Partisan Nature of Voter ID
Wisconsin also passed a restrictive voter ID law last year. Rep. Robin Vos (R), the chairman of ALEC in the state, spearheaded the effort to pass the bill, and it was signed in June by Governor Scott Walker, an ALEC alum. After a Wisconsin court struck down the law as an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote, Vos and another legislator sought to intervene in the appeal -- but when asked by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel who was funding their legal fees, they refused to disclose.
Vos, along with Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer (an independent who votes with Republicans), justified their intervention in the suit by alleging they were concerned that "voter fraud" would affect their reelection chances in November. This, despite the fact that in-depth investigations into election fraud in Wisconsin's 2004 and 2008 elections (where no voter ID law was in place) revealed that fraud occurs at a rate of less than one-thousandths of a percent, as CMD has reported. Only two individuals were charged statewide with committing the kind of in-person "voter fraud" that stricter identification requirements might prevent.
After Wisconsin's ethics board advised that accepting free legal services would run afoul of Wisconsin law -- Wisconsin ethics rules prohibit legislators from accepting anything of value that might influence their official judgment -- Vos and Ziegelbauer pulled their names from the case. But Vos still refused to say who had been funding the legal challenge.
On June 27, Republican National Committee (RNC) spokesman Ryan Mahoney confirmed that the RNC had been secretly bankrolling the effort to intervene in the case. The Republican Party's deep interest in seeing voter ID laws upheld is not surprising, given the communities affected by the new voter ID legislation.
An estimated 220,000 eligible voters in Wisconsin do not have the forms of identification required under the voter ID law (but they do have other documents proving their identity and residency). "The registered voters least likely to have the required forms of identification [are] poor people, minority group members with low socio-economic status and students, all constituencies that generally vote for Democrats," said Lester Pines, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters in the challenge to Wisconsin's voter ID law.
"Wisconsin is a battleground state," Pines told CMD in an email. "If through the use of the Wisconsin Voter ID law the Republicans can suppress enough Democratic voters, they stand of chance of winning Wisconsin's electoral votes in November and possibly, thereby, winning the presidency."
The RNC bankrolling this case, and potentially many others, reveals the stark partisan nature of the push for voter ID.