Congressional Forum Examines the Potential Impact of State Voter Registration Laws

Voting Rights 11.18,11

At a
Congressional forum this week
, civil and human rights advocates warned
about the potential for widespread voter suppression under recently adopted
state voter registration laws.

Drawing on a
recent Brennan Center study finding that laws in 14 states could restrict
voting access for as many as 5 million Americans
, participants at the forum
raised the question of whether many of the new laws were targeted at keeping
minorities, low-income people, youth, seniors, and persons with disabilities
from voting.

“The lawmakers pushing these new measures claim they are a protection
against an epidemic of voter fraud,” said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D.
Md. “However, evidence for such widespread fraud does not exist. The evidence
we do have points to a political agenda on the part of those who are crafting
these new rules. The right to vote should and must not depend on the politics
of the day but on eligibility.”

Laws requiring government-issued ID’s; reducing early and absentee voting;
and restricting the voting rights of citizens with felony convictions are among
the issues raising concerns.

During the forum, Lee and Phyllis Campbell, an elderly couple from
Tennessee, talked about their experience in obtaining a required photo ID. Mr.
Campbell said that upon going to the local Department of Motor Vehicles with
his wife to get her photo ID, he was told that it would be much easier to pay
an $8 fee and have the license reissued, rather than go through the process of
getting the free photo ID he requested.

“I want to state right now that paying the $8 fee was not the question as we
could easily afford that. The point was the state legislature in passing this
law had emphasized that the photo was to be free. Otherwise, in my opinion the
fee could be considered a poll tax,” said Mr. Campbell.

The forum, “Excluded
from Democracy: The Impact of Recent State Voting Law Changes
,” was chaired
by Rep. John Conyers, D. Mich., and widely
attended by Democratic members, including Congressional Black Caucus Chair
Emanuel Cleaver, D. Mo., and Reps. Jerrold
Nadler, D. N.Y.,  Steve Cohen, D. Tenn., and Bobby Scott, D. Va.

Participants also included Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director,
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Elisabeth
MacNamara, president, League of Women Voters; Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center
for Justice, co-author of the report “Voting
Law Changes in 2012
;” Laura Murphy, director, American Civil Liberties
Union Washington Legislative Office; Barbara R. Arnwine, executive director, Lawyers’
Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; and Matthew Segal, co-founder and
president of OUR TIME and former executive director of Student Association for
Voter Empowerment.

The Leadership Conference and its coalition partners are working to prevent
the enactment of additional laws restricting voting rights and will be mounting
efforts to ensure that all eligible voters
have the opportunity to cast a ballot on Election Day

“Thankfully, in securing the right to vote, the days of poll taxes, literacy
tests, and brutal physical intimidation are behind us. But today’s efforts at
disfranchisement, while more subtle, are no less pernicious,” said Wade
Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on the Civil and Human
Rights, in a
statement submitted to the forum

Watch coverage of the forum from C-SPAN: