WASHINGTON – New voter ID proposals by a number of states are part of a “season of intolerance,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday as he announced a campaign against legislation that opponents say would curb voter rights.
More than two dozen states are considering voter ID restrictions this year. Some of the laws would require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and require registered voters to bring government-issued photo IDs when they go to cast their ballots. Proponents of the legislation in Wisconsin, Virginia, South Carolina and other states argue that these extra measures would prevent voter fraud, and actually bolster voting rights.
“Any time that voter fraud is committed, it waters down the legitimate ballots of legitimate voters,” said Virginia state Sen. Thomas Garrett, a Republican. “That is sort of a violation of the most basic tenet of American democracy, that all men and women are created equal, and that each vote should be counted equally.”
The Virginia Senate passed its version of voter ID legislation Monday. The legislation, which still needs House approval, doesn’t require government-issued IDs; voters can bring utility bills, paychecks, bank statements and other documents to prove their identity.
Voter fraud is a minor issue that is generally confined to local elections, said Curtis Gans, director of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate. But it is still a concern.
“There are people in New Jersey with winter homes in Florida that vote in both places,” he said. “If you can do things to prevent that, you should do them.”
Sharpton and his allies at the news conference launching the campaign, including Janet Murguia, president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group, say the proposed laws will do more harm than good. Their position: Voter ID laws disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, the elderly, students and women.
“That is the real goal of these laws: to suppress the vote of those who have all-too-often been disenfranchised,” Murguia said. “It is unconscionable. It is unconstitutional.”
Many of the leaders emphasized that the voter ID measures are part of a coordinated attack on civil rights. The Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the National Action Network and the Conference of National Black Churches, called it a “master plan to disenfranchise people of color and women.”
“This is an ideological assault on the American dream,” said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Sharpton invoked the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., noting the irony of a new monument in Washington dedicated to the civil rights leader when laws that would “eradicate everything he stood for” are under consideration.
Lee Saunders, the secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union for government workers, likened the current civil rights climate to the one King fought against in the 1960s.
“These voter suppression laws are something out of a history book,” he said. “They are 21st century versions of poll taxes and literacy tests.”
Using history as a guide, Sharpton announced a re-enactment of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965. This time, Sharpton’s group, the National Action Network , will lead a five-day march along the 1965 route to support voting rights, starting March 4. On March 27, they will rally outside the Supreme Court.