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National Issues

Rep. Ellison Would Ban Photo ID Requirement for Voting PDF  | Print |  Email
By Rep. Keith Ellison Press Release   
November 05, 2007

Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minneapolis) has introduced legislation that would ban the use of photo identification as a requirement for voting in federal elections.

“In America, our right to vote is a sacred right, and a moral obligation,” Ellison stated. “We must do everything that encourages, fosters and facilitates everyone’s ability to exercise that right. While photo ids seem harmless, they are in fact – the modern day poll tax,” Ellison said. Poll taxes were used extensively throughout the South from Reconstruction through the Jim Crow era to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of Black voters. In 1964, Congress ratified the 24th Amendment which banned poll taxes.

The requirement for photo ids in federal elections can impose a burdensome requirement and ultimately disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, particularly low-income, communities of color, senior citizens, women and young people.

Recently, the Chief of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Voting Rights Division, John Tanner confirmed this when stating: “It's probably true that among those who don't [have Photo ID], it's primarily elderly persons. And that's a shame. Of course...our society is such that minorities don't become elderly. The way that white people do. They die first."

This week, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Law and Civil Rights, on which Ellison serves, held an oversight hearing on the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Department of DOJ. Under close questioning by Ellison and other Members of the Subcommittee, Tanner apologized for ‘the tone…and clumsiness’ of his statement, but did not back away from the stereotypical statement. At the hearing, and in spite of Mr. Tanner’s earlier assertion, DOJ claimed that photo id requirement in federal elections has no discriminatory impact on minorities, senior citizens or young voters.

The facts speak otherwise. According to a June 2005 University of Wisconsin Study:
• An estimated 23% of people aged 65 and over did not have a valid photo id;
• Less than half of Milwaukee County’s African American and Hispanic adults did not have valid drivers license or photo identification compared to 85% of their White counterparts who did.
• For young minority adults, aged 18-24, only 26% of African American youth and 34% of Hispanic youth had a valid driver’s license compared to 71% of their White counterparts who did.
“Clearly, on the key civil rights voting issue of the decade – the requirement that voters provide photo ids to vote – the Bush Administration’s Voting Rights Division has intentionally turned a blind eye and allowed, if not encouraged, voter suppression of minorities, seniors and young people,” the Minneapolis Congressman said.

Ellison’s bill reflects the Minnesota practice which does not require photo ids for the purpose of voter verification. Ellison’s legislation would mandate this standing Minnesota practice nation-wide. Ellison has a companion bill that also mirrors the Minnesota election model by amending the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require states to allow eligible individuals to register to vote in federal elections on Election Day.

“In Minnesota we go to great lengths to make voting as inclusive as possible. This includes forbidding the use of photo ids and allowing Election Day Registration. It shows,” Ellison stated. Minnesota routinely leads the nation in voter turnout with an astounding 78% in the 2004 elections. This compares to a national average of around 55%.

“Free, open and welcoming elections in Minnesota have consistently resulted in record turn-outs which have brought both an engaged electorate, and good, open and honest government. This is democracy at its best,” Ellison concluded.

Civil Rights legends, Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and Judiciary Chairman, John Conyers (D-MI) have joined Ellison in sponsoring his voter id ban legislation.
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