ALEC and Nevada GOP launch vote suppression bills

vote suppression

It isn’t quite true to say that vote suppression bills are “a solution in search of a problem,” because the “problem” as seen by ALEC and associated Republicans is that too many people are voting, thus placing a permanent GOP majority in doubt.  Here’s a portion of AB 266, the perfectly predictable photo ID bill:

“Section 2 sets forth the acceptable forms of proof of identity which are: (1) certain government-issued documents or identity cards that show a recognizable photograph of the person to whom the document or card is issued; (2) a voter identification card; or (3) certain documentation from an administrator of certain health care facilities that are licensed by the State.”

What’s the problem? Just show the election officials your driver’s license? That, according to the Brennan Center isn’t a solution to the real problem – encouraging more people to participate in our electoral politics.

“Approximately ten percent of voting-age Americans today do not have driver’s licenses or state-issued non-driver’s photo ID. Based on Americans’ moving patterns, many more do not have photo ID showing their current address. And getting ID costs substantial time and money. A would-be voter must pay substantial fees both for ID cards and the backup documents needed to get them-up to $100 for a driver’s license, up to $45 for a birth certificate, $97 for a passport, and over $200 for naturalization papers. The voter may also have to take several hours off of work and travel significant distances to visit government offices open only during select daytime hours. Finally, many identifying documents cannot be issued immediately, so potential voters must allow for processing and shipping, which may take from several weeks to an entire year.”

As the Brennan Center relates, there’s nothing “free” about the documentation needed to get voting photo identification cards, even though the card itself is supposed to be issued at no charge.  And, who are those most likely to be suppressed by this legislation?  No surprise here:

“The impact of ID requirements is even greater for the elderly, students, people with disabilities, low-income individuals, and people of color. Thirty-six percent of Georgians over 75 do not have a driver’s license. Fewer than 3 percent of Wisconsin students have driver’s licenses listing their current address. The same study found that African Americans have driver’s licenses at half the rate of whites, and the disparity increases among younger voters; only 22% of black men aged 18-24 had a valid driver’s license. Not only are minority voters less likely to possess photo ID, but they are also more likely than white voters to be selectively asked for ID at the polls. For example, in New York City, which has no ID requirement, a study showed that poll workers illegally asked one in six Asian Americans for ID at the polls, while white voters were permitted to vote without showing ID.”

Whose vote is in jeopardy?

Predictably that would be elderly people, students, people with disabilities, low income Americans, and people of color.  We’ve covered this territory before in terms of Nevada voting, especially in rural areas.  The geography of this state, and the fact that most of the population tends to live in just two counties, means that rural voters are also at risk.

It’s also no surprise that some of the same people who walked off the ALEC gang plank into the depths of vote suppression are the same who made the same march previously, see here.  AB 266 also brings back memories of Senator Roberson’s 2011 SB 373.

How does this fly in the face of American judicial principles? 

Here’s a reminder:

“If you signed your registration form in Nevada declaring under penalty of perjury that you are at least 18 years of age, are a citizen of the United States, are not among the classes of persons held ineligible, and are a resident of the state.  The burden of proof that you have committed perjury rests with the state.

The burden of proof always rests with the state — in any prosecution for anything.  If a person is alleged to have voted once in Clark County and again in Nye County that would call for a prosecution of a crime under NRS 293 — but the burden of proof rests with the state.   If a person is alleged to have voted using an assumed identity, then this calls for prosecution, and once again — the burden of proof rests with the state.

Any suggestion that the citizen be required to “show proof of citizenship” at the polls is not only redundant, but shifts the burden of proof from the state to the individual.  That’s not the way the American system of jurisprudence works.  It’s not the way the American judicial system has ever worked.

A person in any court in the United States is never presumed guilty until he or she can demonstrate innocence.  A person need never prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he or she did not commit a burglary, an arson, a theft, a manslaughter — the burden of proof always rests with the state.  Demanding “proof of citizenship” at the polling stations presumes that unless a person can “prove” otherwise he or she is a fraudulent voter upends the very foundation of our criminal justice precepts.” [DB]

Fancy Focus Group Terms Don’t Hide The Intent

Conservative Republicans are fond of using terms like “election integrity,” as if there was something amiss in our current system.  There isn’t.  The one question these advocates of vote suppression don’t want to answer is:  How many cases of voter impersonation fraud have been identified in this state?  As of August 2014, there were 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud in the entire country, and not one case was associated with a Nevada election. [WaPo]

But, but, but…sputter the advocates, “Photo ID will make people feel better about their elections.”  That’s false, too.  When researchers from Harvard and Columbia put this to a statistical test, the results didn’t support this contention:

“Because actual evidence of voter impersonation fraud is rare and difficult to come by if fraud is successful, reliance on public opinion as to the prevalence of fraud threatens to allow courts to evade the difficult task of balancing the actual constitutional risks involved. In this short Article we employ a unique survey to evaluate the causes and effects of public opinion regarding voter fraud. We find that perceptions of fraud have no relationship to an individual’s likelihood of turning out to vote. We also find that voters who were subject to stricter identification requirements believe fraud is just as widespread as do voters subject to less restrictive identification requirements.” (emphasis added)

Conclusions

Vote suppression bills are precisely that – legislation intended to make it more difficult for groups least likely to need or afford photo identification to vote in state and national elections.  They are promoted by associations like ALEC, which produces the model legislation, in order to secure a permanent GOP majority in elected bodies.  Let’s slip out on the tree limb and conjecture that if the elderly, students, the disabled, and the poor were voting for eliminating the minimum wage, enhancing corporate tax breaks, and terminating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau … the GOP would be demanding same day registration, and ALEC’s bill mill would be going full bore.

Vote suppression bills are unconstitutional. Discrimination should be the last thing found in polling stations. Further, to place the burden of proof on a “defendant” is counter to the very basic principles of American justice.

Vote suppression bills serve no one except corporate interests, as the Harvard/Columbia research reports – they don’t even make people feel any better.

AB 266, and its companions SB 169, and AB 253 should find their way to the bottom of some committee file cabinet – and not their way to the Governor’s desk.

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