LCCR Calls Senate-Passed Election Reform Bill a “Mixed Bag,” Urges Congress to Eliminate Troubling Provisions in Conference Committee

Media 04.12,02

LCCR Calls Senate-Passed Election Reform Bill a “Mixed Bag,”
Urges Congress to Eliminate Troubling Provisions in Conference Committee

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse coalition of civil and human rights organizations, today issued the following statement regarding the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act of 2001 (S. 565):

“While the ‘Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act’ has many provisions that the LCCR supports, and we are pleased that the Senate under the leadership of Sen. Christopher Dodd has moved election reforms one step closer to becoming law, the bill still needs significant improvements,” said Wade Henderson, LCCR Executive Director. “Congress must act quickly to pass strong, meaningful pro-voter and anti-fraud legislation into law. While S. 565 contains many improvments over the House-passed Ney-Hoyer legislation, several provisions in the bill as currently written raise serious concerns and would weaken ? rather than strengthen ? fundamental provisions of the Voting Rights Act.”

In particular, the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act currently requires that first-time voters must provide a drivers license or other identification when voting. “In addition to causing many low-income voters to be turned away at the polls if they cannot obtain a drivers license or other identification, thus in many ways working like a poll tax, the photo ID requirement will lead to discrimination against minority voters even when they possess a valid form of ID. Election officials will be given far too much discretion to decide whether an ID presented by a voter is valid and sufficiently proves the voter’s identity,” said Henderson. “Experience shows ? from the ID requirements of employer sanctions, the process used to verify employment eligibility ? that racial minorities are frequently subjected to much greater scrutiny, are more frequently alleged to possess fake ID, and are more often asked to produce more ID than the law requires, than non-minorities.”

An amendment offered by Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) to minimize the discriminatory impact of this provision, by allowing voters to verify their identity through a signature or an attestation, was filibustered by a minority of the Senate membership and was ultimately withdrawn. Other provisions of concern include a “safe harbor” provision that allows states to delay implementing many of the bill’s standards for 6 years ? after several more federal elections, including the 2004 presidential election; and a provision that removes National Voter Registration Act safeguards, including important voter registration standards.

“We hope that Congress will vote for truly equal voting rights,” Henderson said, “by fixing these provisions in the Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act. Most of the bill’s provisions ? its minimum federal standards for voting machines, significant federal funding for polling places, provisional ballots and statewide computerized registration lists ? are simply too important to go to waste by the existence of ‘poison pill’ provisions like the ID requirement in the bill.”