ACLU Decries Passage of Election Reform Bill; Says Voting Rights Cure Worse Than Disease

October 10, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – In response to tonight’s expected passage of election reform legislation that has been touted by supporters as a cure for America’s flawed voting system, the American Civil Liberties Union said that the bill would disenfranchise whole classes of Americans by erecting new bureaucratic hurdles for voters.

“This bill turns back the clock on four decades of voting rights advances,” said LaShawn Warren, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Instead of making sure that the voting process is inclusive, this bill provides the tools to excludes people from the voting process, negatively impacting the elderly, the disabled, racial and ethnic minorities, students and the poor. Not only does this bill make it more difficult to vote, it makes it more difficult to register to vote.”

The legislation is expected to overwhelmingly pass the House of Representatives this evening as the conference report for the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HR 3295). Its passage will confirm earlier indications that some members of Congress, desperate for a bill before Election Day, are willing to pass almost anything, even if it means disregarding the serious concerns of the civil rights community.

While the bill purports to fix the problems with the electoral system that became apparent during the 2000 Presidential campaign, its solutions are illusory, the ACLU said. For example, the legislation establishes minimum standards for the performance of voting machinery, but provides an exemption for punch card machines, the most infamous voting rights offenders of the 2000 Florida debacle.

Most of the ACLU’s concerns about the bill are the highly complicated new identification requirements, which were insisted on by a number of conservative members of Congress ostensibly for anti-fraud reasons even though there is no evidence to suggest that electoral fraud is anything approaching a problem. Such ID requirements are unnecessary, harmful to privacy, a further threat to an already-failing electoral system and lead to discrimination, the ACLU said.

Despite long-standing objections to photo identification requirements by even the Department of Justice, the conference report nevertheless imposes them, effectively disenfranchising whole segments of the population from voting. For instance, families relegated to homeless shelters because of the faltering economy would be effectively cutoff from the polls. “How is someone who lives on the street going to be able to provide proof of residency – almost always necessary for a photo ID?” Warren said.

The ACLU’s letter on the conference report can be found at:

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