Voter ID Amendment to S. 160, the “District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act”

Media 02.25.09

Recipient: U.S. Senate

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, we write in strong opposition to an amendment to S. 160 that would require voters to obtain and show a government-issued photo ID before exercising their constitutional right to vote.

Photo ID requirements are one of the most serious threats in decades to our efforts to ensure the right of every eligible American to vote. They prevent eligible voters from participating in our democracy, encourage racial and ethnic discrimination at polling places, and do nothing to combat genuine instances of voter fraud.

We oppose the voter ID amendment for the following reasons:

First, no citizen should have to pay to vote. This basic principle, a key inspiration for the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would be greatly undermined by the voter ID amendment. While it is difficult for most people to imagine living without a photo ID, it is indisputable that many individuals do not have one – and it costs time and money to obtain it.

Authorizing funds so that states can give free ID to voters who cannot afford it, as this amendment does, is not sufficient. Our most cherished civil right should never be left to the mercy of the yearly appropriations process. Furthermore, citizens would still be faced with the expense and time involved in getting the documentation, such as a birth certificate, required to obtain a photo ID. Thus, while poll taxes were eliminated in the 1960s, a voter ID amendment would essentially bring them back.

Second, photo ID requirements will disproportionately disenfranchise people of color, older Americans, individuals with disabilities, rural and native voters, low-income and homeless people, and married women, who are less likely to carry a photo ID. They also give poll workers an unacceptable level of discretion, opening the door to discrimination at the polls against racial, ethnic, and language-minority voters.

Third, while supporters of stronger photo ID requirements argue that they are needed to combat election misconduct, the evidence establishes that current anti-fraud laws work. Moreover, while there is no question that election misconduct exists, including improper purges of voters, distributing false information about when and where to vote, stuffing ballot boxes, and tampering with registration forms, there is no evidence that the type of fraud that this amendment purports to address – voters who misrepresent their identity at the polls – is anything but an anomaly.

The right to vote, and to have your vote counted, is the most important civil right that we Americans have. And photo ID requirements are one of the greatest threats to fair and equal voting rights today. Congress should be in the business of encouraging full participation of our citizenry, not developing ways to limit the right to vote. For these reasons, we urge you to reject the voter ID amendment to S. 160.

Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please contact Rob Randhava, LCCR Counsel, at 202-466-6058 or [email protected].

Wade Henderson, President & CEO
Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President