BOSTON - October 24 - The right to vote could be denied to thousands of eligible voters in Boston if the city adopts voter ID requirements in response to a proposal this week by City Councilor Jerry McDermott. Stuart Comstock-Gay, executive director of the National Voting Rights Institute (NVRI), a non- partisan voting rights organization in Boston, issued this statement today in response:
"We oppose the call for new voter identification requirements in Boston because such requirements threaten to disenfranchise perhaps tens of thousands of eligible voters who lack government- issued photo ID, particularly the elderly, people with disabilities, the poor and people of color.
"National research has shown that strict voter ID requirements could have a negative impact on the right to vote for millions of U.S. citizens, but there are still officials who attempt to make it a prerequisite for voting, advancing voter ID with false allegations of individual 'voter fraud', which research shows to be minimal.
"Voter ID, in fact, has no role in fixing the real ailments of our election system and would not protect against the rare occurrence of 'voter fraud'. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reports that while 200 million votes were cast in federal elections since October 2002, only 86 individuals have been convicted of federal voter fraud -- and none for offenses that would have been prevented by a voter ID requirement. An extensive analysis of election fraud conducted by Professor Lorraine Minnite at Barnard College in 2002 -- the only study of its kind, to date -- found that voter fraud is rare and that safeguards to prevent fraud are already in place.
"In short, the key impetus behind this proposal -- so-called 'voter fraud' -- is more myth than reality. Instead of solving a real problem, an ID requirement would simply mean longer lines on Election Day, more work for poll workers and more opportunities to disenfranchise eligible voters.
"Furthermore, research shows that requiring a drivers' license or other photo ID to vote would have a particularly discriminatory impact in Boston, where many people do not own cars and may not have a drivers' license. U.S. Census data show that 33 percent of households in Boston own no vehicle. These rates are even higher among minority households in Boston than among white households: 38 percent of African-American households, 41 percent of Latino households and 45 percent of Asian households lack any vehicle, compared to 29 percent of white households.
"Boston is already under a federal consent decree after the U.S. Department of Justice sued over noncompliance with language assistance requirements at the polls. Creating a new voting requirement that is likely to affect people of color in Boston disproportionately is not the way to improve the city's record on voting rights.
"In fact, any new voter ID law in Boston would certainly face a number of legal challenges, as have most other strict voter ID requirements. In recent months, courts have thrown out or enjoined photo ID laws passed in Georgia and Missouri and legal challenges are pending in other states, such as Indiana and Arizona, which have adopted strict ID requirements. Just a few years ago, a court here in Massachusetts enjoined the city of Lawrence from imposing a new ID requirement.
"Massachusetts law already requires all citizens to attest to their voting eligibility at the time they register and citizens who register by mail are required to show ID the first time they vote. There is no evidence of any need to extend those requirements more broadly and no one has brought forward any evidence of voter fraud that would be addressed by imposing new identification requirements on Election Day.
"A vibrant American democracy requires high levels of voter turnout and participation in elections. All eligible voters must be encouraged to raise their voices and vote on Election Day without unnecessary barriers that deter participation.
"We call on the Boston City Council to reject the call for voter ID requirements and concentrate on more pressing needs facing our election system, such as assuring that the city is in full compliance with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act and laws guaranteeing voting access for persons with disabilities."
For more information, visit http://www.nvri.org or NVRI's partner organization Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action at http://www.demos.org to download the Voter ID briefing paper or others in the Challenges to Fair Elections series or the Demos policy briefing book Fulfilling America's Promise.