While advocates of voter identification laws say the goal is to prevent fraud at the polls, Rep. Elijah Cummings insists that what is really at work is voter suppression during a campaign that promises to be a tighter than ever race for the presidency.

“As many as one in four African-American voters, more than one in six Hispanic voters, and about one in ten eligible voters overall do not possess a current and valid government-issued photo ID,” wrote Cummings in a press release Sept. 18, citing a NYU School of Law Brennan Center for Justice analysis of a voter rights bill he co-introduced with 13 House of Representatives members.

The bill, introduced as the America Votes Act of 2012 by Cummings and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), targets the drive spearheaded by Republican opponents of President Obama to require voters to produce government issued identification at the time votes are cast.

“The America Votes Act of 2012 is a commonsense bill that protects the ability of American citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote,” said Larsen.

“Efforts to deny any voter the right to cast a ballot are offensive to us all,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings. “I am proud to join Rep. Larsen in supporting the America Votes Act of 2012 to help ensure that the restrictive voter ID laws on the books in 33 states will not succeed in suppressing the votes of people of color and young students.”

The bill will allow voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity if they do not have the identification documents required at their polling place. The bill’s intention is to make sure that voters will not be turned away from the polls.

So far, legislation has been introduced in 32 states and includes new voter ID proposals in 14 states, proposals to strengthen existing voter ID laws in 10 states, and bills in nine states to amend the new voter ID laws passed in 2011, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization serving the legislators and staffs of the states, commonwealths and territories.

The result is legislation that could affect ballot outcomes in 17 states that could account for 218 electoral college votes. A total of 270 electoral college votes is needed to win the presidency.

The Cummings- Larsen bill is also sponsored by members from California, Missouri, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Georgia and Virginia.

To the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and a coalition of civil rights, ethnic, faith organizations that includes the Asian American Justice Center, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the National Congress of American Indians and the National Council of La Raza, the issue was labeled a “state of emergency” in a statement issued Sept. 25.


Michelle Phipps-Evans

Special to the AFRO