Monday, September 19, 2005

A commission examining national voting practices issued a report to Congress yesterday recommending a uniform photo-identification standard, but opponents say its stringency would disenfranchise millions of voters who might lack the necessary documents to obtain the IDs.

The standard of identification recommended by the Commission on Federal Election Reform is essentially the same as those established by the recently passed federal Real ID Act, which outlines strict rules and procedures for the issuance of driver’s licenses by the states.

“The Real ID is a logical vehicle because the National Voter Registration Act established a connection between obtaining a driver’s license and registering to vote,” said the report drafted by the commission, which is chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. “The Real ID card adds two critical elements for voting — proof of citizenship and verification by using the full Social Security number.”

Mr. Carter and Mr. Baker yesterday defended the recommendations, saying photo-identification already is required to board airplanes, cash checks and enter federal buildings.

But Commissioner Spencer Overton, a George Washington University election law professor, dissented.

“The recommendation will exclude millions of Americans, and the disproportionate numbers of citizens who will be excluded are people of color,” he said.

He pointed out, as does the report, that there is no significant “evidence of extensive fraud in U.S. elections or of multiple voting.” The report indicated that both occur in federal, state and local elections, but Mr. Overton said the majority of such fraud is related to absentee ballots, which require no identification.

It is the use of the Social Security number on the face of the Real ID card that has libertarians objecting.

“Beyond the voting rights issues, there is issue of identity fraud with thousands of cases where people are stealing another person’s identity using their Social Security number; with these cards the number will be on there,” said LaShawn Warren, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jonah Goldman, an attorney for the campaign for fair elections for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights under the Law, said the Real ID law creates an “enormous burden” on citizens to obtain identification. He said a person must prove who he or she is with four types of identification.

“In addition to all of that, when you put it into current context with the devastation in the Gulf Coast region, where many of those places had destruction of public records, people down there cannot even hope to prove some of these things,” Mr. Goldman said.

President Bush received the report yesterday, but White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president has not decided how to move forward.

“We will be reviewing it carefully,” Mr. McClellan said. “We want to make sure that we continue to move forward on steps to protect the integrity of the voting systems and things of that nature.”

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