House Democrats Tell States to Fight 'Disturbing Trend' Of Voting Laws

WASHINGTON -- House Democrats have penned a letter to the secretaries of state urging them to "put partisan considerations aside" and fight against the "disturbing trend" of voting laws being enacted across the country.

Introducing the letter at a press conference on Thursday afternoon, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called these state laws a "form of voter profiling that makes it difficult for people of certain groups to participate" in the democratic system.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) laid out the types of laws that have passed, championed largely by Republicans as tools to fight voter fraud. But for Lewis and his fellow Democratic signatories to the letter, "it is the voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, repeals of early and absentee voting, and purging of voter rolls of people who have paid their debt to society that are stealing away access to the ballot."

Citing a report issued last month by the Brennan Center for Justice, Lewis said that "these changes will make it much harder for more than five million people to vote in the election of 2012."

Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, used Texas' photo identification law as an example of what he said is an effort to disenfranchise "a certain segment of our community."

"It's going to be elderly. It's going to be the minorities, of course. It will be the disabled," Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez's words echoed those of Guy Cecil, the executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who spoke to reporters at the centrist think tank Third Way earlier in the day.

"The people who are likely not to have a voter ID or a photo ID, the people that are most likely to vote during the early vote period, the people that are most likely to need a place closer to them to vote at a satellite location are African Americans, poor people, Hispanics, single moms, unmarried women and Democrats," Cecil said.

At the House Democrats' press conference Thursday afternoon, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke about his grandfather facing literacy tests at Texas polls that asked him "how many bubbles are in a bar of soap."

"I think we got to a point where we won't do that anymore," Cleaver said, "but we're doing things that are just as dastardly wrong as what were done" to his grandfather.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) used Minnesota's recounts in recent senatorial and gubernatorial elections to show there was no justification for her state's attempts to combat voter fraud. "We've had two statewide elections that have gone under and through scrutiny and recount by our judiciary system," McCollum said. "There is no problem that warrants this kind of action."

Notwithstanding Minnesota's "clean bill of health," as McCollum put it, the Supreme Court has endorsed even the prospect of fraud as a sufficient justification for enacting voter ID laws that can have the effect of making it more difficult for a person to vote.

In 2008's Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, Justice John Paul Stevens joined the Court's conservative wing to rule that an Indiana voter ID law is constitutional despite unanimous opposition by the state's Democrats and the lack of evidence of any voter impersonation at the polling place "actually occurring in Indiana at any time in its history."

Still, Stevens' opinion left the door open for such laws to be challenged by people who can prove that partisan motivation was "the only justification for a photo identification requirement."

Hoyer hinted that such legal challenges, as well as grassroots advocacy, could be around the corner if his letter does not sway the secretaries of state charged with enforcing the new voting laws.

"We're going to pursue every avenue and we're working with groups who have both legal capacity to go to the courts for redress and go to the people for redress."

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