As the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled on the commonwealth’s voter identification law, a slate of House Democrats unveiled a new piece of legislation that will stop similar laws that they call an “offense against Democracy.”
The America Votes Act of 2012 would allow voters who do not meet the identification requirements in their state to sign an affidavit, which states the voter is who he or she claims to be. The prospective voter would then be permitted to cast a standard ballot.
In recent years, 11 states have passed new voter ID measures, including Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Those lawmakers have said the new legislation is necessary in an effort to root out voter fraud. The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, however, has lodged challenges to many of the laws, saying they unfairly discriminate against voters — including minorities, students, the poor and the elderly — who routinely lack the law-approved identification.
In a conference call with reporters, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said legislators are in the “business of expanding peoples’ rights, not restricting them.”
“We will fight to the death to make sure that anybody, be they independent, Republican or Democrat, has the right to vote and their vote be heard,” Cummings, also the House Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, said. “The opportunity to vote affords the janitor in the company to have the same power on that one day — Election Day — as the president of the company.”
The bill was introduced by Rep. Rick Larsen (Wash.), and has 13 Democratic co-sponsors: Reps. Mike Honda (Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.), Gwen Moore (Wis.), G.K. Butterfield (N.C.), James Moran (Va.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Donna Edwards (Md.), Bob Filner (Calif.), Elijah Cummings (Md.), John Lewis (Ga.), and Hansen Clarke (Mich.).
Larsen said affidavits are used routinely in his home state of Washington, as all ballots are cast at home rather than in a physical voting booth. He also said voters casting fraudulent ballots face harsh penalties from the state. The Justice Department two weeks ago cleared New Hampshire’s new voter ID law, as it included a provision for voters to sign an affidavit if they were without identification.
Larsen said Republicans pushing such laws need to keep perspective: There are more reported instances of shark attacks and exploding toilets than allegations of in-person voter fraud across the country.
Cummings, too, pointed to his own family history in the battle over the right to vote. He said after his great, great grandfather came out of slavery in 1865, he registered to vote three years later despite threats.
“One hundred forty-some years later, we are still fighting over that precious, precious right to vote,” he said. “Our country is better than that.”
The legislation will likely have no bearing on this November’s general election, however. New measures typically aren’t taken up by Congress for quite some time after their introduction, if ever. Despite this, Larsen said, the measure is also intended to send a statement.
“If we don’t start now then when are we going to start pushing back against these voter suppression laws?” he said. “Will be back at it next year and the year after that and the year after that.”