Voter ID laws, which require voters to show photo ID in order to vote, are one of the most common forms of voter suppression laws favored by Republican state lawmakers. Although the laws’ supporters claim that they are necessary to combat in-person voter fraud, a voter is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls. According to one study, a vanishingly small 0.0002 percent of votes are the product of such fraud. Instead, the primary function of voter ID laws is to make it harder for minorities, students, low-income voters — all of which are both less likely to have ID and more likely to vote for Democrats than other voter demographics — from casting a ballot.
Earlier today, Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA) introduced legislation to prevent this from happening. Under Larsen’s bill, voters disenfranchised by Republican voter ID laws could still vote in federal elections if they signed a sworn statement:
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in subsection (c), if a State has in effect a requirement that an individual present identification as a condition of receiving and casting a ballot in an election for Federal office, the State shall permit the individual to meet the requirement—
‘‘(A) in the case of an individual who desires to vote in person, by presenting the appropriate State or local election official with a sworn written statement, signed by the individual under penalty of perjury, attesting to the individual’s identification and attesting that the individual is registered to vote in the election; or
‘‘(B) in the case of an individual who desires to vote by mail, by submitting with the ballot the statement described in subparagraph 6 (A).
The bill does contain an exception for first-time voters that register to vote by mail, but it otherwise would free federal races from one of the most common Republican voter suppression tactics.
The Constitution gives Congress broad authority to address voter suppression. Although the Constitution permits states to set “[t]he times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representative” Congress may “at any time by law make or alter such regulations.” Additionally, because of voter ID laws’ impact on minority voter, Congress should also have the authority to abolish them altogether under its power to enforce the Fifteenth Amendment’s promise that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”