Senators Debate Status of the Right to Vote After November Election
By Elizabeth Murphy | December 19, 2012 4:06 pm

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist said Congress should consider national voting standards after concerns about voting rights took the national stage in the months leading up to the November presidential election.

The Senate Judiciary hearing Wednesday on the status of the right to vote focused a good portion of its attention on Florida, which saw some voters waiting in line as long as 7 hours, a reduced number of early voting days and an attempt to purge its voter roll not long before the November’s election. Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011, lamented the status of his home state Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

“Senators… I would encourage you to think long and hard about establishing some national standards, standards that would ensure lengthy in-person early voting, as well as common sense provisions such as same day voter registration and allowing voters to vote at the precinct most convenient for them,” Crist said.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (screenshot)

The Republican turned Democrat said the “ridiculous restrictions” imposed by new voter laws in Florida morphed it from a “model” for voting to a “late night TV joke.” Crist called for legislators to “be respectful to the voter — the people we are supposed to work for.”

Attorney General Eric Holder suggested the need for a national voting standard last week during a civil rights forum in Boston.

But the words “suppression” and “disenfranchisement” have been thrown around too cavalierly at times this election cycle, said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the committee and lone Republican senator present for the hearing.

“The history of voting in this country was expanded with great effort and sometimes with bloodshed,” Grassley said in his opening remarks Wednesday. “Those who opposed expanding the franchise to our fellow citizens sometimes used force and trickery. Comparing common-sense voter ID requirements, which enjoy the support of three-fourths of the electorate and a majority of Democrats, to poll taxes or worse, trivializes the sufferings of millions of Americans who were denied the right to vote.”

He added: “Nobody’s vote should be diluted by people voting who aren’t eligible to vote.” Several states with Republican-majority legislatures passed voter identification laws over the past two years, eliciting court challenges from the Justice Department. State officials said they were doing their part to root out voter fraud, while many Democrats said the laws were too restrictive and served to unfairly block poor and minority voters. Voting rights and voter fraud took center stage in the months leading up to the election, which ultimately produced a second term for President Barack Obama.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) gave a statement to the hearing committee, saying what happened in Florida this year was against the back drop of a “broader Republican-led campaign to restrict voting in at least a dozen states.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate’s Majority Whip, said he hoped those attempting to pass what he views as restrictive voting laws “took a lesson from Nov. 6.”

“There were people standing in line for 7 hours to defy you,” he said. “Whatever the time, whatever the cost. Thank goodness they did. It was a reaffirmation of who we are are as Americans.”

Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz offered a different view of the debate Wednesday, saying his state, which is known for having a “model election system,” has implemented new procedures to catch vote fraudsters. There is now a special agent from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation who is assigned to investigate election misconduct. Since August, he testified, Iowa law enforcement have filed charges in eight cases of election misconduct.

“Anyone who says that voter fraud does not exist should look at the numbers that have been produced in a few short months,” he said, adding that he expects more charges in the coming months.

Grassley said he is looking for a “common sense” approach to the debate surrounding voting rights. That debate will likely spark again when the Supreme Court hands down its ruling on a challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

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