Durbin: States Making it Harder for People to Vote

Chairs Hearing on State Voting Laws, Writes Governors of States with Restrictive Laws

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired a hearing today which examined a rash of new state voting laws that threaten to suppress turnout across the country. New laws in over a dozen states significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to show restrictive forms of photo identification before voting, and make it harder for volunteer organizations to register new voters.


“For more than half of the life of our Republic, a majority of Americans were not allowed to vote. Fortunately, we learned from these mistakes and expanded the reach of our democracy though six constitutional amendments,” Durbin said. “A spate of recently passed state voting laws will make it harder for millions of disabled, young, minority, rural, elderly, homeless, and low income Americans to vote. Protecting the right of every citizen to vote and ensuring that our elections are fair and transparent are not Democratic or Republican values; they are American values.”


Durbin concluded the hearing with an announcement: “Today, I’m sending letters to the Governors of three of these states – Wisconsin, Florida and Tennessee – asking them to inform the Subcommittee of their plans for ensuring that the laws they have enacted will not disenfranchise the citizens of their state.” Copies of those letters are attached.


Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud. The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that voter impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent.


Since the beginning of this year, 7 states have passed laws requiring certain forms of photo identification prior to voting.  In January 2011, there were only two states (Georgia and Indiana) with strict photo ID laws.  Since then, five more states (Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) have enacted strict photo ID laws.  These laws require voters to show certain forms of state-issued photo ID before voting.  (In Texas, for example, a gun license would qualify as a valid ID, but a student ID card from the University of Texas would not.)  Similar voter ID provisions are now being considered in more than two dozen other state legislatures.


The consensus among civil rights advocates and election lawyers is that these new laws severely impact minority, low income, young, disabled, and senior citizen voters.  According to the Brennan Center, 11% of American citizens – 21 million people – do not have a photo ID that would satisfy these new voter ID laws.  This includes 15% of eligible low-income voters, 18% of eligible young voters, 18% of seniors, and 25% of eligible African Americans.


Several states have also enacted laws that significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to present a birth certificate or other proof of citizenship before registering to vote, and make it harder for third-party groups to register voters.  These provisions have a disproportionate impact on traditionally Democratic constituencies.


Early voting is primarily used by those who cannot get to the polls on Election Day for a variety of reasons, including a lack of reliable transportation, a job that does not allow them to take time off on Election Day, and trouble finding child care.  If they are disabled or elderly, they may not be able to count on receiving the assistance they need to get to the polls on Election Day. For these reasons and many others, the number of people voting early has increased with each election.  In 2008, for example, 30% of all votes were cast before Election Day.


There are two states – Florida and Texas – that have enacted laws that threaten to end voter registration drives by non-partisan organizations. The Florida law places onerous administrative burdens on volunteers who sign up to help their neighbors register to vote.  If a volunteer fails to meet a series of cumbersome administrative requirements, they could be prosecuted and fined. As a result of this law, the League of Women Voters – a highly respected and nonpartisan organization – has indefinitely suspended all voter registration drives in Florida for the first time in its history.


Witnesses at today’s hearing included: Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL); Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH); Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Chairman, Congressional Black Caucus; Representative Charles Gonzalez (D-TX), Chairman, Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Representative Todd Rokita (R-Indiana); Judith Brown Dianis, Co-Director of the Advancement Project; Professor Justin Levitt, Loyola Law School; and Hans van Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation.