Ryan J. Reilly has an update on the origins and legal strategy behind voter i.d. laws being passed around the country. Reilly shines a floodlight on where they come from and what they are really about:
It all started in January, as many new Republican state legislators who had been swept into statehouses across the country in the 2010 elections started pushing like-minded legislation soon after they took office.
“These bills started popping up everywhere and what started as a trickle almost seemed like a flood,” Carolyn Fiddler of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told TPM.
Altogether this year, 20 states which did not have voter ID laws and 14 states that already had non-photo ID laws have considered legislation requiring citizens have a photo ID to vote, according to the latest figures from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Of those 34 states which considered voter ID legislation, six of them enacted laws: Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Many suspect some sort of coordinated campaign behind the voter ID bills. Back in March, Campus Progress uncovered model legislation published by the conservative group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Fiddler isn’t so sure they’re entirely responsible.
“I know a lot of folks point to ALEC and what they’re doing but what my experience tells me is that a lot of these legislators are influenced by their colleagues in others states,” Fiddler told TPM. “They say, ‘hey that works! Let’s try to push that thing here’.”
A few years back, there was a centralized group, the American Center for Voting Rights, that was dedicated to pushing the idea that voter fraud was a major threat. Now it’s more a loose network of conservatives who have used their influence at think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the pages of various conservative media outlets to push voter fraud as a threat to democracy.
The Tea Party is also getting in on the game, with a group in Texas playing a major role, starting an affiliated group called “True the Vote” that hosted its first national conference back in March. Speakers insisted that their efforts were non-partisan and that they wanted everyone to be able to vote.
As for the motivation behind the new i.d. laws, Reilly reports:
“There’s a lot of reason to think that voter ID laws depending on how they’re constructed could have a harmful effect on minority voters,” University of Michigan Law School Professor Samuel Bagenstos told TPM. Bagenstos was the number two official in the Civil Rights Division until he returned to Michigan this summer.
The VRA, Bagenstos said, “puts the burden on the state to prove that the change in voting isn’t discriminatory in purpose and effect.”
“The people who are proposing those laws say there’s a problem with voter fraud,” he said. “But since the overwhelming majority of voter fraud that occurs occurs via absentee ballot and not at the polls, there’s a very tenuous connection.”
Since the legislatures proposing voter ID laws don’t typically come out and say that they’re trying to stop minorities from voting, it’s usually much easier to argue that regardless of what lawmakers intended to accomplish when they passed the law that it would have a discriminatory effect.
Reilly notes that advocates of i.d. bills in Texas and Arizona are focused on weakening or gutting the section 5 pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, making it easier for states to pass voting laws that disempower minority communities. Attorney General Holder says the Justice Department “will continue to enforce the Voting Rights Act…”
Ironic that the conservative advocates of ‘smaller government’ are fine with increasing regulation and spending more taxpayer dollars to fund a “solution’ to the non-existent problem of voter fraud.