Identifying voters’ rights

New rights legislation is not the solution for increased voter inclusion.

Last week, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., proposed legislation that would ban requiring photo IDs to vote in federal elections. The representative from Minnesota called photo IDs “the modern day poll tax.”

In the 2004 presidential election, Minnesota – a state that does not require photo IDs – led the nation with 79 percent voter turnout. Ellison, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said photo IDs disenfranchise minorities, the poor, women, the elderly and young people – who are all generally less likely to have photo IDs and, also, more likely to vote Democratic.

Yet, those in opposition contend a ban on photo IDs would cause an increase in voter fraud. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said photo IDs maintain voting integrity.

In 2002, Congress created a nonpartisan commission to conduct research on elections. Prior to the release of their report last year, the Election Assistance Commission omitted findings of experts who concluded that there was little voter fraud around the country despite the lack of evidence of widespread or organized fraud found. However, the commission did find that there is rampant confusion on voter registration and voter eligibility.

There are between 13 million and 22 million Americans of voting age, most of them poor, who do not possess a government-issued photo ID. These voters, in a country where more than half of eligible voters abstain from voting, need to be included in the democratic process for it to be democratic. However, Ellison’s proposal is not the solution for increased voter inclusion. His legislation is polarizing and only lessens, not ends, voter confusion – banning photo IDs will not necessarily increase voter turnout because it does not make clearer the vague process of voter registration.

Last winter, Minnesota’s Secretary of State, Mark Ritchie, proposed a program that would automatically register all individuals that have state driver licenses to vote. Similar federal legislation would end Republicans’ cries of fraud and voting would be universally accessible – a photo ID would not be a poll tax, but a voting enabler.