Voter ID laws suppress turnout by blacks, elderly, panel told
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WASHINGTON — New voter ID laws in Alabama and other states could suppress turnout at the polls, particularly among blacks and the elderly, civil rights groups told Senate lawmakers on Thursday.
Studies show that millions of Americans don’t have the type of identification required under the new laws, Justin Levitt, an associate professor at Loyola Law School, said after a hearing of a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on civil rights.
"That’s an awful lot of people to shut out for no reason," he said.
Republicans counter that the new laws are needed to prevent voter fraud.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, chairman of the civil rights subcommittee, said he’s “deeply concerned by this coordinated, well- funded effort to pass laws that could have the impact of suppressing votes in some states.”
This year saw an increase in the number of states enacting laws that, among other changes, reduce the time allowed for early voting and impose more restrictions on groups conducting voter registration drives. The more controversial laws require voters to show government-issued photo identification.
Voter ID will be on the Nov. 8 ballot in Mississippi along with statewide races, including for governor. Republican organizers spent about a year collecting signatures for a statewide referendum on the issue after lawmakers failed to approve a bill after years of debate.
Supporters of the voter ID laws deny that requiring a government-issued photo ID has a discriminatory impact. They say the requirement is necessary to keep people from voting who shouldn’t.
"We want to instill confidence in the state to drive up turnout,” said Rep. Todd Rokita, a Republican from Indiana who was secretary of state there when Indiana adopted its voter ID law in 2005.
Indiana was among the first states to adopt such a law. Rokita said the state hasn’t been sued yet over its law because “it’s reasonable.”
South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said that state’s adoption of a voter photo ID law makes sense. He noted that 30 states have such laws.
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