Laws in dozens of states requiring voters to show their driver’s license or another form of government identification could be upended if Democrats pass their massive elections legislation aimed at nationalizing voting standards.
The Democrats’ bill wouldn’t allow states to require proof of identification for requesting absentee ballots. It also would provide a workaround for voters who don’t show their ID at the polls. Instead, voters can sign a declaration attesting to their identity.
“This swings the door for fraud wide open,” said Rep. Ashley Hinson, Iowa Republican. “It’s just common sense that a valid form of voter ID should be required to cast a ballot in an election.”
The National Conference of State Legislatures says 36 states require voters to show ID. But Democrats and liberal advocacy groups are aiming to wipe out the state requirements with the federal legislation.
“You are just adding this ridiculous burden for a nonexistent problem,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the liberal Common Cause.
Liberals say a voter-signed declaration is necessary as part of the Democrats’ bill to protect minority voters, who say they often don’t have access to driver’s licenses or other forms of identification. They charge that state voter ID laws disenfranchise Black and Hispanic voters.
“If you don’t have an ID, you can still vote,” Ms. Albert said.
Section 307 of the more than 800-page bill says a state may not require a voter to show a form of ID to obtain an absentee ballot — but it can require a signature from the voter, as has been a requirement with absentee ballots in past elections.
If a voter chooses to give a sworn statement on his or her identity, the statement would be preprinted by a state election commission and available at polling sites. Fraud would be subject to the penalty of perjury.
The provisions are needed because states have “eroded access to the right to vote through restrictions on the right to vote including excessively onerous voter identification requirements,” the legislation read.
Civil rights groups have sued Georgia officials in federal court over the state’s new law, passed last week, requiring a voter ID to request an absentee ballot. The groups say the regulation runs afoul of the Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.
But Georgia is hardly alone in requiring an ID, and voter ID requirements go back decades in the U.S. The laws have become increasingly strict in some states — not just requiring some sort of proof of identification but also a photograph.
More than a dozen states specifically request photo identification to cast a ballot. Indiana was the first state to implement a strict photo requirement, which was upheld by the Supreme Court.
“The notion that photo ID is racist is absurd, and it’s actually racist to claim that minority voters can’t obtain an ID,” said Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita.
He said no one in Indiana has been wrongly blocked from voting, even with the state’s identification requirement. And the problem with the signed declaration as part of the Democrats’ bill is that it can’t be effectively challenged, Mr. Rokita said.
Voter fraud and duplicate voting can be prevented by voter ID laws, say conservatives who point to other countries that require voter ID.
The United Kingdom, Canada, France, Argentina and Brazil are among countries requiring voters to show identification in their elections.
“There is nothing in society that does not require an ID where people can’t get one,” said Michael Whatley, chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party. “Whether it’s buying prescription drugs, or driving a car, or flying on a plane, or anything else, and when a state is willing — as is North Carolina — to provide you with a free ID that you can turn around and use, there’s absolutely no reason to not have it.”
Republicans also argue other parts of the Democrats’ elections law impedes states’ rights and sets a wide range of rules affecting elections and other aspects of political life, including:
• Allowing 10 days past Election Day to count mail-in ballots.
• Ordering states to allow early voting for at least two weeks.
• Mandating requirements on states for voter registration.
• Requiring states to set up redistricting commissions, instead of allowing state legislatures to do the job.
• Implementing ethics for Supreme Court justices.
• Requiring disclosure of tax returns for presidential candidates.
The House passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, last month, and the Senate is now holding hearings on the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said the bill is a priority for his chamber, with or without bipartisan support.
“Failure is not an option,” Mr. Schumer said.
Liberal activists are calling on Senate Democrats to change procedural rules and eliminate the filibuster, a 60-vote threshold to pass legislation, to get the bill passed. With a 50-50 Senate, it’s highly unlikely that 10 Republican senators would join Democrats in supporting the massive elections overhaul.