The House yesterday passed legislation that would require voters to show a valid photo identification in federal elections over the overwhelming objections of Democrats who compared the bill to segregation-era measures aimed at disenfranchising Southern blacks.
The Federal Election Integrity Act was approved on a nearly party-line 228-196 vote. Republicans backed the bill 224-3, with three nonvoters; Democrats opposed it 192-4, with five nonvoters. They were joined in opposition by the House’s one independent member.
The bill, which faces an uncertain future in the Senate, is part of a Republican effort to complete before the November elections a package of proposals aimed at curbing illegal immigration and its effects on ordinary Americans.
The so-called “Voter ID” bill, aimed at stamping out voter fraud, would require voters in federal elections to provide picture identification by 2008 and provide proof of U.S. citizenship by 2010. It was among the recommendations made last year by the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, headed by former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican.
“Effective voter registration and voter identification are bedrocks of a modern election system,” they wrote in their final report.
But Democrats, siding with groups that work on behalf of minorities and illegal aliens, called the bill a “modern-day poll tax” and said it would place an insurmountable burden on voters and infringe upon their voting rights.
Rep. Brian Bilbray, California Republican, countered that the real infringement upon voting rights would be allowing fraudulent votes by the dead or illegal “to cancel out legitimate votes.”
“That is the violation of the Voters Rights Act that we have not addressed,” he told colleagues before the vote.
Democrats, who have long demanded reforms to the federal voting process, yesterday dismissed Republican concerns about voter fraud.
“Show me the examples of the problem you’re trying to solve,” demanded Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat who accused Republicans of trying to appeal to the “fear and — yes, perhaps — the prejudices of people.”
A Republican cited a study by Johns Hopkins University that found 1,500 dead people who had voted in recent elections. Mr. Hoyer belittled the study, saying no criminal convictions for voter fraud had been won in any of those cases.
Mr. Bilbray pointed out that such convictions might be obtained if proper identification were required.
“Voter fraud is not something you can come back to after the fraud is committed,” he said. “The person who voted for those dead people is long gone by the time it comes up on the record.”
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, Florida Republican, urged support of the bill because, she said, it would prevent illegal aliens from voting in U.S. elections.
“It’s outrageous and inexcusable that voters do not have to show proof of citizenship in order to vote in an election,” she said. “Illegal immigrants are populating this country at an unprecedented number, and it is unjust and unfair to citizens of this country that noncitizens should have a hand in electing federal officials.”
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Florida Democrat, said he’s more concerned about discouraging voters than he is about illegals voting.
“Nonparticipation in the election process is more of a problem in this country than noncitizens trying to vote,” Mr. Hastings said.
Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat, called the bill a “modern-day poll tax” and charged that the bill “is nothing less than voter suppression.”
He also reminded the Republican chamber of its overwhelming support in July for renewing the Voting Rights Act, although many conservatives off Capitol Hill warned that portions of it are no longer necessary.
“Just three months ago, this body passed the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, admitting the sad fact that voter discrimination is still the reality,” said Mr. Lewis, who said requiring identification at the polls is “an attack on the voting rights of millions of Americans.”
Across the Capitol in the Senate, Democrats continued to slow-walk legislation approved by the House last week to construct 700 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The chamber voted yesterday 94-0 on a procedural motion to take up the bill.
Despite universal approval for taking up the legislation, Democratic leaders refused to grant “unanimous consent” agreements to speed up the process.