What do you think about voter ID laws?
In the 1950s and ’60s, groups of students like you were the driving force behind the push to outlaw discrimination at the voting booth.
The resulting law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, did away with practices meant to “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” These practices included poll taxes and literacy tests, which were historically used to disenfranchise black voters in the South. States with a track record of discrimination were barred from making any change to their voting laws without first getting the approval of the federal government.
Flash forward 40 years and the landscape is vastly different. Fears of terrorism after Sept. 11, combined with a get-tough approach to curbing illegal immigration (specifically in states on the Mexico border), resulted in a swath of new bills requiring voters to show identification at the polls. According to the National Council of State Legislatures , 700 voter ID bills have been proposed in 46 states since 2001. Of those, laws have been passed in 12 states: Alabama, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.
These laws are hotly debated, since voting-rights advocates view them as a means to restrict access to the polls. What if a citizen did not drive, and didn’t own a non-driver’s license photo identification – such as a state ID or passport? But proponents argue that these forms of identification are easy enough to get and that the interest in preventing fraud at the polls – and ensuring that voters are whom they claim to be, and are indeed eligible to vote – is greater.
This year, another crop of state legislatures are proposing voter ID bills, including Iowa, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. In addition, Colorado wants to strengthen its law to require not just ID, but also proof of citizenship, when registering to vote.
Texas and South Carolina are two states on the restricted list in the 1965 Voting Rights Act; if their bills are passed, any change they make must be cleared by the federal government before going into effect. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has fast-tracked the vote on bill, declaring it an emergency and saying “the integrity of the ballot [is] critical to the people of Texas.”
Opponents say that the bill will make it harder for low-income Texans and senior citizens to vote, and that there is no evidence that fraud – by illegal immigrants, or others – is a problem.
What do you think?
Do voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Does the need to protect against voter fraud take priority? Do you think the laws would be effective in doing so? Do the laws discriminate against seniors and low-income citizens? Join the discussion!
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