Ehlers Sponsors Controversial Voting Bill Requiring Photo ID

Grand Rapids area congressperson Vern Ehlers voted last week in favor of a controversial amendment to the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that will require voters to provide photo identification when voting in federal elections. The bill passed by a narrow 228 to 196 margin along party lines with the Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the Democrats in opposition. Grand Rapids congressperson Vern Ehlers co-sponsored the bill along with ten other representatives including Michigan representative Thaddeus McCotter. The bill, HR 4484, makes it a requirement that all individuals voting in a federal election be required to present government-issued photo identification before receiving a ballot. It goes on to stipulate that by 2010 anyone wishing to vote in a federal election must present government-issued photo identification of which proving their United States citizenship was a condition of receiving it. The bill would require such photo identification cards for the 2008 elections. While the bill does make some mention of providing free identification cards to “indigent individuals,” state governments are permitted to charge for identification cards. Additionally, any identification cards issued by the government are to be used only for elections and cannot be used as government issued photo identification in any other situation.

Despite claims by the bill’s sponsors and supporters that it will address one of the perceived problems with federal elections—voter fraud—the issue is not a major problem according to Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. According to Henderson, states have been quite successful at addressing voter fraud and preventing non-citizens from voting. Instead, Henderson argues that there are more structural issues relating to election reform including limited polling places, poorly trained poll workers, faulty voting technology, and lack of language-appropriate voting materials that have yet to be addressed. The bill’s requirement for photo identification that proves citizenship would likely only be met by a passport which is only held by 25% of US citizens over 18 and is costly for many to get. Henderson argues that due to the costs of a passport—as much as $100 for the passport and at least $20 for a birth certificate if the applicant does not have one—amounts to a poll tax on low-income voters. Moreover the bill, with its citizenship requirements for voters, must also be seen within the context of an anti-immigrant climate in Washington DC and an anti-immigrant backlash across much of the country by far right groups.

The bill will now move to the Senate with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights organizing a letter writing campaign urging Senators to vote against the bill.

Author: mediamouse

Grand Rapids independent media // mediamouse.org