This week, we take a look at another in a series of model legislation written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the Voter ID Act. Make no mistake about it, this legislation was written to hack away at a very specific segment of the voting public. ALEC and its allies invoked the specter of voter fraud, a wholly manufactured crisis, to justify a series of measures designed to erect barriers to voting among Democratic-leaning demographic groups.
90 Second Summaries: Season 2, Episode 28
Spotlight on the States: The Voter ID Act
ALEC model legislation – adopted July 17, 2009
Click here to download this summary (pdf)
Status: Versions introduced in at least 33 states. As of 11/10/11, 14 states have photo ID requirements in place.
Purpose: The 2008 electorate that launched Barack Obama to the White House was more than just the highest election turnout in more than 60 years. It represented the emergence of a new Democratic coalition, one comprised primarily of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income Americans, liberals, young voters and women. At the time, forecasts of demographic change and shifting views on social issues led to speculation that Republicans were on the verge of becoming a permanent minority party.
Shortly after President Obama’s election, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) began to prioritize efforts to chip away at the influence of this coalition. featuring a cover story entitled “Preventing Election Fraud” in its widely-read newsletter. ALEC and its allies invoked the specter of voter fraud to justify a series of measures designed to erect barriers to voting among Democratic-leaning demographic groups. The Voter ID Act, adopted by ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force in summer 2009, is the most prominent of those measures.
Summary: The Voter ID Act requires voters to present a photo ID in order to cast a ballot. Specifically, it:
• Defines “proof of identity” as a federal or state-issued photo ID that has an expiration date but is not yet expired;
• Requires that prospective voters present proof of identity at the polls;
• Allows those without a valid ID to fill out provisional ballots and lays out guidelines for the consideration of such provisional ballots;
◦ Provisional ballots are counted if the voter provides ID to the county by the Monday following the election;
◦ Otherwise, county election commissioners evaluate each provisional ballot “based on the merits”;
• Establishes that ID cards shall be provided free of charge to eligible voters without a valid driver’s license;
• Exempts nursing home and assisted-living facility residents from the requirements.
If enacted in all 50 states, this model legislation would have the effect of making the voting process more cumbersome for the up to 5 million American citizens, particularly minorities and college students, who currently lack proof of citizenship or residency.
Supporters: American Legislative Exchange Council, most Republicans, etc.
• Supporters claim this measure is necessary to counteract rampant voter fraud, primarily carried out by the Democratic machine. However, details such as the exclusion of expired licenses and the persistent lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud suggest that their support is more driven by partisan concerns.
Opponents: Civic engagement organizations, minority rights organizations, most Democrats, etc.
• Opponents view this measure as an assault on the democratic process, a thinly veiled attempt to depress turnout among the Democratic base by restricting voter access among groups that lean heavily Democratic. They believe it may also violate the various constitutional protections for equal voting rights.
Model legislation text: http://alecexposed.org/w/images/d/d9/7G16-VOTER_ID_ACT_Exposed.pdf
The Nation article on ALEC election-related legislation: http://www.thenation.com/article/161969/rigging-elections
PRWatch on a legal challenge to the Wisconsin version: http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/10/11086/wisconsin-voter-id-law-challenged-league-women-voters
NCSL interactive map and description of state voter ID laws and pending bills: http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=16602
RedState defense of Rhode Island voter ID bill: http://www.redstate.com/soren_dayton/2011/10/10/rhode-island-and-voter-id/
Brennan Center demographic analysis of affected Wisconsinites: http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_50902.pdf