House Takes Up Voter ID's - Not Vote Paper Trail genre: Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Paper trail

In the past, Thought Theater hasn't commented on the issues surrounding the lack of a paper trail for votes cast on electronic voting machines, an issue that has received ample attention in the blogosphere. At the core of the issue are concerns that these machines, many of them supplied by Diebold, are susceptible to hacking and there have been a number of documented malfunctions. Since the 2004 presidential election, there have been numerous calls for the adoption of a system that provides some form of paper trail...a move to prevent fraudulent activity as well as provide some backup alternatives in the event a machine malfunctions and data is lost.

For those interested in more detail on the subject, I would suggest you take a look at Brad Blog as this site has been at the forefront of the issue and is currently pushing for emergency paper ballot legislation.

Today, as I was skimming the news, I ran across an article that discusses a current effort in the House to pass a voter ID initiative, a move seen by many Democrats to be an effort to suppress lower income voters who are apt to support Democratic candidates. The full Los Angeles Times article can be found here.

The primary problem I have with this voter ID legislation is the fact that it purports to be intended to prevent voter fraud, yet it completely ignores the paper trail issue. Unfortunately, that leads me to conclude that those supporting this voter ID bill are simply pushing legislation that they feel would be beneficial to Republican candidates on two fronts. One, it may suppress Democratic voter turnout and it is also being spun as a means to "strengthen border security and crack down on illegal immigration"...a position the GOP feels will benefit them in November.

WASHINGTON — A measure requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is expected to pass the House today, marking another step in a push toward stricter scrutiny of citizenship status in the U.S.

The legislation is one of a series of tightly focused bills crafted by House Republican leaders who want to strengthen border security and crack down on illegal immigration. Its sponsor, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), calls it a safeguard against voter fraud.

The proposed Federal Election Integrity Act follows a spate of state laws passed this year that mandate photo ID or proof of citizenship to vote. One such law was declared unconstitutional Tuesday by a Georgia judge, who said the state's new photo ID requirements infringed on voter rights.

Democrats say that the move to impose a national photo ID requirement is part of a Republican effort to discourage participation by low-income and minority voters likely to back Democratic candidates — a charge GOP lawmakers strongly deny.

In today's House debate, some Democrats intend to argue that the bill's requirement that voters provide proof of citizenship starting in 2010 would create a hurdle for some that effectively amounted to a "poll tax."

Here's my problem. There is little doubt that the GOP has not been motivated to provide effective border security or the means to prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants. The failure to enact and enforce measures and methods to combat illegal immigration has been a concession to the business community, which has been the beneficiary of hard working, low wage employees. The system in place for employers to verify employee eligibility to work in the U.S. is a virtual joke and it is so by choice...which makes the current voter ID legislation all the more disingenuous and wholly political.

The bill would require Americans to show a government-issued photo ID to take part in federal elections starting in November 2008 — the next presidential election. By 2010, voters would have to present a photo ID that could only be obtained by providing proof of citizenship.

A study by the League of Women Voters examined all elections in Ohio from 2002 to 2004 and found that .00004% of those who went to the polls were ineligible to do so. And only 86 people have been convicted of federal crimes related to election fraud out of 196,139,871 ballots cast nationwide since October 2002, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We do not have a large percentage of people violating our election laws," said Millender-McDonald.

She contended that the bill could disenfranchise lower-income Americans because they may decide they could not afford to obtain the documents necessary to meet the bill's requirement for proof of citizenship. Others could be discouraged if they encounter difficulties obtaining such proof, she said.

Although a small fee, mainly to cover production costs, would be charged for the voter ID card, Republican leaders point out that states would be required to provide it free to those under a certain income level. But no provision is made for the cost of getting the documents required to prove citizenship.

"There are a lot of folks in rural America without birth certificates," Millender-McDonald said. "You're talking over 40% of seniors in the state of Georgia who do not have a form of ID, or passports, which cost about $100 and they cannot afford."

She dismissed the bill as "a 21st-century poll tax."

Bills of this nature that have been passed in Missouri and Georgia have been ruled unconstitutional by the courts, although both rulings may be contested to higher courts. Further, if the sponsors of this voter ID bill are actually concerned about voter fraud, it would seem to make sense to offer a comprehensive bill that addresses all the outstanding items of concern...especially given the comparative evidence that suggests the lack of a paper trail may be a much larger threat to election integrity.

Sadly, it appears that the GOP doesn't see any advantage to including these paper trail provisions. It is situations of this nature that lead to voter cynicism in their elected officials as well as the entire political process. Ironically, while we are in the process of exporting democracy to other regions of the world, we have U.S. politicians that prefer to manipulate our democracy for partisan advantage. This and other inconsistencies in the application of democracy simply undermine the potential for other nations to believe that the United States is actually an agent for democratic principles.

Daniel DiRito | September 20, 2006 | 8:13 AM
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