Senate Democrats

SENATE DEMOCRATS DECRY MODERN-DAY POLL TAX

Flawed legislation would require passport to vote

Washington, DC — Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid today joined Democratic Senators Edward Kennedy, Christopher Dodd, and Barack Obama to send the following letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, calling on the Republican Leader to put aside any plans to bring the House voter ID legislation to the Senate floor. In a year when the Congress finally passed a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, the Democrats urged Senator Frist not to attempt to pass legislation that has been likened to a modern-day poll tax and would disenfranchise thousands.

“Not long ago, Democrats and Republicans from the House and Senate proudly stood together to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act,” said Senator Reid. “It is a travesty that only months later the Republican Congress would now consider denying thousands of American citizens their most basic right to vote. I hope this Republican Congress, which has done so little for so long, will not do something so terribly wrong in its final days in session.”

“The Senate came together to pass the Voting Rights Act, but now Republicans want to undermine access to the ballot by imposing expensive and unrealistic new requirements that are cynically designed to keep eligible citizens from voting,” said Senator Kennedy. “By 2010, this bill would impose a twenty-first century poll tax of $97 because American citizens would need to buy a passport just to vote. Federal and state courts have stopped similar laws because of the unjustified burden they place on the right to vote. The hardest hit would be the elderly, minorities, persons with disabilities, and members of some religious faiths. We should be working together to encourage our citizens to exercise their right to vote, not devising new ways to keep people from the polls.”

“All of us want to ensure that our elections aren’t tinged with voting irregularities. But enacting legislation that effectively amounts to a poll tax that allows some people–but not others–to participate in our democracy is absolutely wrong and unacceptable,” said Senator Dodd. “I believe we can work in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that elections are free and fair, while ensuring that all Americans have the right to vote and have that vote count.”

The text of the letter is below.

September 22, 2006

The Honorable William Frist

Senate Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Frist:

Earlier this year, a bipartisan group of leaders from the House and Senate worked to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. Last month, many of those Members, along with civil rights leaders, watched as President Bush signed this vital legislation which has strengthened democracy in our nation. Congress was able to come together in a spirit of bipartisan unity to pass one of the most important bills this Congress has considered. Regrettably, that spirit of bipartisanship has faded into partisan rancor.

On Wednesday, in a largely partisan vote, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would place an undue burden on the voting rights of every American. The so called “Federal Election Integrity Act” (H.R. 4844) would require any individual who desires to register and vote in a federal election to purchase government-issued identification. In order to vote in the 2008 elections, individuals would be required to provide this identification to the appropriate state election official. By the 2010 elections, voters must produce government-issued identification that proves U.S. citizenship.

Such a requirement could create a hardship on minority communities, the elderly, students, persons with disabilities, and members of various religious faiths. The burdensome and costly requirements of obtaining government documents not only could prevent many eligible voters from participating, but they also suggest to the American people that supporters of this legislation are trying to gain a political advantage in future elections. Worst of all, this bill recalls a dark era in our nation when individuals were required to pay a poll tax to cast their ballot and has been termed a 21st century poll tax.

Similar legislation requiring citizens to provide government identification and proof of citizenship has been challenged in courts and enjoined because of their dubious constitutionality. Federal and state courts, including the conservative Eleventh Circuit, have enjoined laws requiring government-issued identification cards for in-person voting because of the unjustified burden they impose on citizens’ right to vote. Moreover, just this week, a Georgia law requiring government issued identification cards for in-person voting was ruled unconstitutional by the Superior Court of Fulton County, Atlanta Judicial Circuit.

Throughout the 109th Congress, Senators have introduced numerous bills designed to address election administration irregularities. Election irregularities are clearly an important issue confronting this nation that should be considered and fully debated by the Senate. However, the Senate should not make – and Democrats will strongly oppose – any attempt to pass this bill or to attach this language or any similar language to any conference report.

We hope you will agree with us that the Senate should not advance any legislation that creates additional hardships for any American that seeks to exercise his or her constitutional right to vote.

Respectfully,

Senator Harry Reid

Senator Edward Kennedy

Senator Christopher Dodd

Senator Barack Obama

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