Protestors: Hey-hey! Ho-ho! Voter ID laws got to go!
Shelby: Protecting fair elections? Or paving the way for discrimination? That’s the debate over new voting laws passed by at least 30 states over the past few years.
GK: It’s a hot-button issue, it’s an issue people feel very passionately about, it’s an issue people have died defending for generations, and so you want to make sure that you get it right.
Shelby: Many of these new laws tighten voter identification rules, and some states will require that people show a photo ID when they go to the polls in November.
How many of you guys have IDs with you? Will you hold them up? A license…a student ID…a student ID…license. And you don’t have one?
Student: I just don’t carry it with me all the time.
Shelby: These students go to school in South Carolina, one of several states where a new voter ID law is being debated in court.
How many of you think you should have to have an ID to vote?
Yeah? All of you? Kind of?
Student: There should be something that proves that that’s you, but I feel like that should be any number of things – like utilities, passports, driver’s license, college ID, anything that can prove that that’s you.
Shelby: But not necessarily something with your picture?
Students: Not necessarily something with your picture, no.
Shelby: That picture proof is where many people disagree.
Supporters of voter ID laws say that government-issued photo IDs should be required to make sure voters are exactly who they say they are, in order to protect fair elections.
Voter ID supporter: I certainly do not want it to be an impediment to anybody that wishes to vote. We just want to make sure these folks are who they say they are.
Shelby: But critics say voter ID laws unfairly target minorities, the elderly, and young people because those groups are less likely to have a photo ID, and getting one can cost both time and money – something many can’t afford.
There’s a real concern that those folks will be less likely to vote, and those are the folks who tend to vote Democratic at higher rates than Republican, and so this is an issue that people feel very strongly about.
A lot of people criticize voter ID laws for targeting minorities or suppressing their votes. Would you agree with that?
BU: I would, actually. And I would even take it beyond just minority communities to low-income communities. Trying to raise the money to get an ID and then trying to get there to pay for it, is putting some unnecessary barriers to people’s opportunities to express their vote.
Shelby: According to the Brennan Center for Justice, about 5 million people across the country could be affected by new voter ID rules this November, and the center says that as many as 25% of African-Americans and 16% of Latinos don’t have government-issued photo IDs.
Protestor: We’re here for equality, equity, justice, and freedom.
Shelby: Today’s battle over voter ID laws echoes a civil rights debate that took place nearly 50 years ago. Even after the civil rights act of 1964, many African-Americans in the south still couldn’t vote.
Protestor: We have a right to come inside if we want to register to vote.
Shelby: Some states required literacy tests, and others had very slow registration processes. Like in Selma, Alabama where the registration office was only open two days a month and only processed 15 registrations a day. Not nearly enough to register the 15,000 black citizens of voting age in the county. After a civil rights march in Selma turned violent, the federal government stepped in.
Government official: We must not refuse to protect the right of every American to vote in every election that he may desire to participate in.
Shelby: President Lyndon Johnson introduced the voting rights act into law in 1965. The legislation banned discriminatory election practices that kept minorities from voting, paving the way for millions of African-Americans to vote for the very first time.
Now, it’s up to each state to decide what voters have to show at the polls, but because some states, like South Carolina, have a history of discrimination, they must get federal approval before they can change their rules.
This fall, federal judges will decide whether South Carolina’s new law violates civil rights. If the law is upheld, voters in November will need a form of government ID with a photo, like a driver’s license or passport. In Pennsylvania, a state appeals court recently upheld a similar voter ID law.
This court decision is a victory for fair and honest elections.
But now a judge must determine whether or not officials can provide IDs to all of the eligible voters who want them before the election. But in Texas, judges struck down the voter ID law saying it imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on poor minority voters.”
News 21, a student-led national investigative reporting project, says its review of voter fraud cases since 2000 showed just one case of voter ID fraud for every fifteen million prospective voters.
Student: I don’t think you wait until there is a problem before you act.
GK: I mean, I think voter fraud is possible, and so this is one of those issues that both sides have some good points, and that’s what a democracy is all about is hashing them out.
Shelby: And if you were in charge of this election, what would you do about this issue?
HR: I don’t think we need a picture ID. I wouldn’t recommend it or require it.
JL: I have no idea how I would run it, and that’s why I don’t put myself in charge of these kinds of things.
Shelby: So you’re not going into politics?
JL: Never! Never!
Shelby: Shelby Holliday, Channel One News.
- Why is voter identification a hot-button issue this year?
- What effect do many of the new voter ID laws have on the voting process?
- Should voters have to show an ID before they vote?
- What forms of identification can be used for voting?
- Why do supporters of the voter ID laws think government-issued photo IDs are the only acceptable form of identification?
- Why do critics believe that the new laws target minorities, the elderly and young people?
- Why does this issue generally split across party lines with Democrats opposed and Republicans in favor?
- How many people could be affected by the new voter ID laws?
- How is this debate reminiscent of the civil rights debate that occurred nearly 50 years ago?
- What was the purpose of the Voting Rights Act of 1965?
- What is at stake in South Carolina and Pennsylvania?