We are writing on behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), to urge your support for the Dodd-McConnell Substitute Amendment to S. 565, the “Equal Protection of Voting Rights Act.” As discussed in more detail below, while we strongly support Senate action on the substitute amendment, we have several serious concerns about certain provisions of the bill which must be addressed before final passage. The LCCR is the nation’s oldest, largest and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, with over 180 national organizations representing persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, labor organizations, older Americans, gays and lesbians, major religious groups and civil liberties and human rights organizations. The enactment of meaningful election reform is one of the LCCR’s highest legislative priorities.
As we now know, during the Election 2000 millions of American citizens were denied their basic right to cast a vote and to have that vote counted. As numerous studies of Election 2000 have shown, many of the voting irregularities that have been identified disproportionately affected racial minorities, persons with disabilities, the elderly and citizens who speak languages other than English. Moreover, the significant problems that were exposed in the nation’s voting system were not confined to any one locality or jurisdiction. Regrettably, over a year has passed since Election 2000, and yet few states have enacted meaningful election reform.
In this time of crisis, both at home and abroad, it is especially appropriate that the Senate work to adopt the Dodd-McConnell election reform amendment after addressing the concerns outlined below. Having identified significant problems with our voting system, the strength of our democracy depends, in part, on Congress’ ability to enact meaningful election reform.
The LCCR strongly endorses the adoption of minimum national voting standards. Specifically, the Dodd-McConnell amendment will require three things. First, all states must adopt important voting standards for voting system technology. Second, all states and local jurisdictions must provide provisional balloting, notifying voters of the opportunity to cast a provisional ballot if their eligibility to vote is in question on election day. Third, all states are required to maintain computerized state-wide voter lists that are readily available on election day. This statewide list is essential to ensuring the accuracy of the voter rolls and protecting against fraud. In addition, the substitute amendment contains provisions that would dramatically increase voter accessibility and thus guarantee the right to vote for language minority citizens and citizens with disabilities.
While the LCCR supports immediate Senate action on the Dodd-McConnell substitute, we do have several remaining concerns regarding specific provisions currently in the substitute amendment. In particular, the LCCR opposes Section 103 (b) of the Dodd-McConnell substitute, because requiring the use of photographic identification and/or other documents as a pre-condition for voting would have a disparate impact on voters with disabilities, African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans and Native Americans. While the provision is intended as an anti-fraud measure, there are other more acceptable ways of addressing concerns about fraud; and if left unaddressed, the provision will result in discrimination and prevent voter participation. We are also concerned about legal loopholes in the amendment which undermine existing law, such as the Voting Rights Act, and we strongly urge that this provision be corrected. In addition, we are also concerned about the “safe harbor” provision of the amendment, which we believe will have harmful consequences for enforcement of this and other critical voting rights laws. However, while we are fully committed to working with the bill’s sponsors, as well as the rest of the Senate, to build upon the bill’s obvious merits, these are concerns that will need to be addressed as we move forward toward passage of this legislation and protecting the voting rights of all Americans.
There is no truer testimony to the greatness of our democracy and our nation than the realization of the fundamental principle that every American citizen has the right to vote. At a time when our faith in democracy and our country have never been more important, we must protect, preserve and promote this most basic right of all Americans.
We urge your immediate action on this important issue and assistance in addressing our concerns. Thank you.
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
American Association of People with Disabilities
American Civil Liberties Union
Cuban American National Council
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
League of Women Voters
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.
National Congress of American Indians
National Council of Churches
National Council of La Raza
Paralyzed Veterans of America
People for the American Way
Union of American Hebrew Congregations
United Auto Workers
United Cerebral Palsy
U.S. Public Interest Research Group