Tea party-backed Congressman Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) on June 19 introduced a bill he says will prevent voter fraud, but voting rights advocates are calling it another misleading and unnecessary piece of legislation.

Walsh’s proposed Federal Elections Integrity Act would require voters to present government-issued ID to cast a ballot in federal elections.

“Current federal law requires those voting in federal elections to be American citizens,” said Walsh in a statement. “This long overdue bill simply enforces that requirement and will be a huge step towards combating voter fraud in this country.”

The congressman’s bill is among a growing number of efforts to enact state and national ID laws and other supposed fraud prevention tools ahead of the November presidential elections—though Walsh’s measure, if passed, would not take effect until 2013.

The Illinois lawmaker echoed a much-repeated Republican refrain about the prevalence of voter fraud, saying it was “a real issue.”

“We have seen plenty of examples of people lying about who they are, and convicted felons, dead people, and illegal immigrants voting,” he said. “This bill is just common sense. The American people understand that it makes no sense that a photo ID is required to get a library card or board an airplane, but not required to do something as sacred as voting.”

But voting rights advocacy groups say GOP claims of rampant voter fraud are exaggerated, and Walsh’s bill is another wasted piece of legislation.

“This is another ‘solution’ in search of a problem,” said Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to participate in voter fraud. Supporters of these laws have yet to provide concrete evidence of widespread voter impersonation.”

The motives behind these GOP-led “election integrity” initiatives are questionable, Marshall said. “It’s interesting the way these bills are being coordinated or focused in certain states, such as the battleground states where Obama won (in 1998),” he said. For example, the Department of Justice last week sued the state of Florida—a presidential election campaign battleground state—for what it called an illegal voter purge program.

“There’s a clear pattern in the activities,” Marshall continued, “and lacking the evidence to support their claim it’s hard to find legitimacy behind these laws (policies).”
Under Walsh’s bill, state or local election officials would be forbidden from providing a ballot to a person voting in person unless they can verify their identity through a current government-issued photo ID.

If enacted, the bill would allow a voter who does not have an ID at the time the ballot is requested to be issued a provisional ballot that will be counted if they provide the required ID within 48 hours.

Those voting by absentee ballot, except for military voters, must submit a copy of the required identification.

Marshall said the Lawyers’ Committee will oppose this and other legislation like it because they stymie legitimate voters from participating in the democracy—such as the old, the poor and other citizens who may not have a government-issued ID for legitimate reasons—and distract from real problems, such as voter intimidation and antiquated voting systems.

“We’re going to continue to oppose any barriers to voters being enfranchised,” he told the AFRO.

Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO