[JURIST] The Center for American Progress (CAP) [advocacy website] released a report [text] on Wednesday criticizing the tide of recently-passed state voter ID laws as an attempt by conservatives and lobbyists to “return to past practices of voter suppression to preserve their political power.” The report details new restrictions on registration in six states and laws in nine states that require voters to show a government-issued photo ID, concluding that these measures are motivated by a desire to prevent the more than 21 million voters who do not have these IDs from participating in elections. Defenders of such regulation say that the laws are bi-partisan and essential to dealing with the issue of voter fraud [Heritage Foundation report]. However the CAP report finds that voter fraud is almost nonexistent in most jurisdictions, implying the perceived chicanery is taking place at the statehouses rather than the polls. Wisconsin, for example, enacted a law requiring the possession of a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, yet in the 2004 election the state had a fraud rate of merely 0.000023 percent. The report also argues that existing criminal sanctions against voter fraud are already sufficiently preventing abuse. The report alleges that Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Kansas are the five worst states for voting rights.
Debate over these laws has sparked controversy leading up to presidential and congressional elections in November, as well as a number of legal challenges. The Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] released a similar report [JURIST report] in October, claiming these laws could have an adverse affect on qualified voters. In Wisconsin, two cases challenging the constitutionality of the state’s voter ID law are being sent to the Wisconsin Supreme Court [JURIST report]. That court will rule on whether a temporary injunction against the law will stand, but it is not clear yet whether it will also rule on the constitutionality of the law. In February South Carolina brought a suit [JURIST report] against the US Department of Justice after it blocked the state’s enforcement of a voter law requiring a government-issued photo ID. The DOJ has the power to do this pursuant to the Voting Rights Act [Cornell LII backgrounder], which allows the federal government to screen any new voting laws passed by states with a history of voter discrimination. Last year the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state’s law [JURIST report] that requires voters to show one of six government-issued IDs.