More States Propose Voter ID Laws

Mar 9, 2017
Originally published on March 9, 2017 8:16 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

At least twice now, President Trump's White House has walked away from his claims, made without evidence, by saying they must be investigated. One was his claim about being wiretapped. The other was a claim in January about millions of illegal voters in the election.

Vice President Pence has yet to begin a promised investigation. But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, state lawmakers are taking action to limit what they see as voter fraud.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: It didn't take long this year for state legislators to start considering a wave of new voting laws. And just about everywhere, the debate has had a familiar ring.

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MARY SCHNEIDER: We do not have a voter fraud problem in North Dakota.

CHRISTOPHER OLSON: To say that there's not a voter fraud problem in North Dakota, I think that's another inaccurate statement. Maybe there have been no convicted cases, but it doesn't mean that we don't have an issue.

FESSLER: That's Republican Christopher Olson debating Democrat Mary Schneider last month in the North Dakota House on whether to tighten voter ID requirements. In Virginia's House of Delegates, here's Republican Bob Marshall a few days earlier.

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BOB MARSHALL: I've identified individuals who tell me they're not citizens, but they're on the voter database.

FESSLER: He was speaking in favor of a bill requiring Virginia voters to show proof of citizenship, something Democrat Rip Sullivan opposed.

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RIP SULLIVAN: We know it to be true that there will be Virginians disenfranchised by this piece of legislation, all because of some concern about voter fraud for which there is no proof.

FESSLER: In state after state, the arguments are pretty much the same. Democrats say the new rules would discourage legitimate voters from casting ballots. Republicans say even if there isn't a lot of fraud, they want to assure voters that the system is secure.

REGINA BIRDSELL: I don't know if there's a lot of cheating. I just know that because of our loose laws, people feel that way.

FESSLER: New Hampshire Republican Senator Regina Birdsell wants to tighten residency requirements for voters in her state, where Trump recently claimed thousands of Massachusetts voters were bused in to cast illegal ballots. That claim has been widely discredited, including by state Republicans, but Birdsell says her constituents still worry out-of-staters can game the system.

BIRDSELL: I call it trust but verify.

FESSLER: Her bill is one of hundreds now before state legislatures, although it's unclear how many will become law. Many proposals would expand voter access with things like online registration, but others would make it harder to vote.

In Arkansas just this week, lawmakers agreed to put a constitutional amendment on next year's ballot to require a photo ID, and Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate wants voters to show a card with a barcode to verify their identity. He doesn't think fraud is rampant but says all the talk of fraud has people worried.

PAUL PATE: The public is now taking that perception as a reality, and my job and us other election officials is we now have to work extra hard to try to show people all the things we're doing to protect the integrity so they can re-establish the confidence in our voting system because when they don't believe their vote counts, then they tend not to go vote. They'll go, well, why should I vote?

FESSLER: He insists no voters will be disenfranchised. But opponents question the need for these bills when study after study shows that voter fraud is rare.

MYRNA PEREZ: Nobody says it never ever happens.

FESSLER: Myrna Perez is with the Brennan Center for Justice, which has fought many voting restrictions in court.

PEREZ: The question is not whether or not there's a way we can get the number down to zero. The question is, are the efforts that these states are taking to try and prevent this worth who is being disenfranchised in the process?

FESSLER: She thinks it could be hundreds of thousands of people. It's a debate being waged with new vigor this year in a number of states.

Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.