Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Burdening the Right to Vote: Assessing the Impact of Mandatory Photo Identification Requirements on Minority Voting Strength

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of African American Public Policy

Burdening the Right to Vote: Assessing the Impact of Mandatory Photo Identification Requirements on Minority Voting Strength

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Perhaps no issue threatens the fragile status of the voting rights of African American and Latino voters more than recent efforts to adopt mandatory nationalized voter identification requirements. Linking the right to vote to the presentation of specific photo identification significantly burdens that right and denies minority voters equal and unfettered access to the political process. However, prevailing public discourse around mandatory voter identification requirements have failed to sufficiently link the respective burdens faced by African American and Latino voters. While discussion regarding the impact of these laws on African American voters has focused on the issue of poverty, the discourse around the impact on Latino voters has focused more on questions of citizenship. Despite the unique impact of these laws on both communities, the burden placed on each group's ability to access the political process is best viewed in the context of ongoing voting discrimination. Indeed, Congress' recent reauthorization of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 makes clear that both African American and Latino voters continue to experience significant levels of discrimination that impair their ability to meaningfully exercise their right to vote and equally access the ballot box on Election Day. I argue that African American and Latino voters are comparably burdened by voter identification requirements and current discourse around these laws should be revised to account for the ongoing voting discrimination that both groups face.

THE STATUS OF FEDERAL EFFORTS TO ADOPT A MANDATORY IDENTIFICATION REQUIREMENT

Both state and federal efforts to adopt voter identification requirements have been encouraged, in part, by the findings and recommendations issued by the Carter-Baker Commission on Federal Election Reform (2005). The commission, chaired by former president Jimmy Carter and former secretary of state James Baker, issued a series of recommendations and an election reform proposal that, according to an article by Dan Balz in the 19 September 2005 Washington Post, purport to build confidence in and enhance the quality of our electoral system. Perhaps the most contested of these recommendations concerns the adoption of a national standardized voter identification system based on REAL ID-identification that confirms citizenship and provides social security number verification (Weiser et al. 2005). The commission also suggested that concerns surrounding homeland security following the September 11 World Trade Center attacks may eventually lead to the adoption of a national identity card that would serve as an appropriate substitute for the REAL ID. Unfortunately, the commission's findings leading up to its recommendation are devoid of substantive analysis of the impact that voter identification requirements would have on minority voter access. Indeed, the commission's final report does not reference African Americans, Latinos, or minority voters in any part of its analysis or discussion concerning voter identification.

The Carter-Baker Commission's recommendations eventually gave rise to efforts to adopt voter identification requirements on both state and federal levels (National Conference of State Legislators). Most notably, in September 2006 the House passed H.R. 4844-the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006-a bill that would require all voters to present costly government-issued photo identification in all federal elections, commencing in November 2008. Although a seemingly sensible requirement on its face, the bill also requires that by 2010, all voters present identification that could only have been obtained if proof of citizenship were provided. In most instances, a state-issued driver's license would not suffice under this heightened standard. Such a law, if passed, would dramatically revamp the way that we vote in the United States by requiring that every voter prove his/her citizenship as a prerequisite to participation in the political process. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.