ACLU Letter to the House of Representatives Urging Opposition to Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 (HR 4844)

U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Re: Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 (HR 4844)

Dear Member of Congress:

The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 (HR 4844) on Wednesday, September 20th.  On behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and its hundreds of thousands of members, activists, and fifty–three affiliates nationwide, we write to urge you to oppose this legislation.  HR 4844 would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote in federal elections.  In addition, beginning in 2010 voters would be required to present a photo ID that was issued based on proof of citizenship in order to vote.  These requirements impose an unnecessary and undue burden on the exercise of the fundamental right to vote for millions of Americans who are eligible, registered, and qualified to vote.

Photo Identification Requirements Amounts to a Poll Tax

As with the other methods of disenfranchisement in American history, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, the photo identification requirement would present significant barriers to voting and have a chilling effect on voter participation. There are voters who simply do not have identification and requiring them to purchase photo identification would be tantamount to requiring them to pay a poll tax.  As a significant number of racial and ethnic minority voters, elderly, voters with disabilities, and certain religious objectors do not have photo identification nor the financial means to acquire it, the burden of this requirement would fall disproportionately and unfairly upon them, calling into question its lawfulness under the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973.  No citizen should have to pay to vote. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has consistently raised objections to imposing photo identification as a prerequisite for voting because such requirements are likely to have an adverse impact on black voters and will lessen their political participation opportunities.  In 1994, DOJ found that African-American persons in Louisiana were four to five times less likely than white persons to have driver’s licenses or other picture identification cards.[1] In addition, the Federal Elections Commission noted in its 1997 report to Congress that photo identification entails major expenses, both initially and in maintenance, and presents an undue and potentially discriminatory burden on citizens in exercising their basic right to vote.[2]

Citizenship Requirements Pose A Substantial Hardship for Some Citizens

Because the overwhelming majority of states do not include citizenship on the driver’s license, most voters will need to get new identification if they choose to vote. Many of the documents needed in order to prove citizenship are not readily available for some citizens.  It was not uncommon in many parts of the country for children to born at home without an official birth certificate.  In such instances, these citizens would be unable to vote because they would be unable to produce the requisite documentation for a photo ID.  While HR 4844 makes a feeble attempt to cover the costs for the photo ID there are many practical considerations that are overlooked that pose a significant hardship for voters -- such as time, locations of photo ID facilities, hours of operation, costs for documentation necessary to receive a photo ID, etc.

No Record Exists to Justify the Need for Photo ID Legislation

Unlike the 14,000-page record of widespread voting discrimination documented during the debate of the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendment Act of 2006, there is little or no evidence of election misconduct based on voter impersonation.  In fact, Secretary of State for Georgia, Cathy Cox informed members of the General Assembly that her office had received many complaints of election misconduct involving absentee ballots but no documented complaints of misconduct involving ballots that were cast in-person at the polls.  Yet, despite evidence of election misconduct involving absentee ballots, photo identification requirements apply only to in-person voting.  This proposed federal legislation is overreaching and amounts to a solution in search of a problem.  While election misconduct exists, including improper purges, dissemination of false information about elections and vote tampering, none of these issues are addressed in this legislation.

Effective federal legislation should not erect new obstacles or weaken existing voting rights laws.  We recognize that reform of our nation’s electoral systems is critical.  But it cannot be done in a manner that unduly prevents legitimate voters from exercising their constitutional right to vote.  For the reasons indicated above, we urge you to vote “no” on final passage. 

Sincerely,             

Caroline Fredrickson, Director   
ACLU Washington Legislative Office                         

Laughlin McDonald, Director  
ACLU Voting Rights Project  

LaShawn Warren, Legislative Counsel
ACLU Washington Legislative Office   

Neil Bradley, Associate Director
ACLU Voting Rights Project

Endnotes

1 Letter from Deval L. Patrick, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, to Sheri Morris, Assistant Attorney General for the State of Louisiana (Nov. 21, 1994).
2 Letter from L. Anthony Sutin, Acting Assistant Attorney General, Department of Justice to Congress on amendments to the Bi-partisan Campaign Integrity Act of 1997.

Stay Informed