National Press Club

ACLU and Heritage Foundation speakers clash over voter identification laws

February 23, 2012 | By Lorna Aldrich | Lorna2@verizon.net

Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow and manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation (left)

Laura Murphy, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow and manager of the Civil Justice Reform Initiative in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation (left)

Photo/Image: NoelSt.John

Laura Murphy of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation clashed repeatedly over the effects of state laws that require voters to show government-issued photo identification at a Feb. 23 National Press Club Newsmakers news conference.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 15 states now require voters to show photo IDs before voting. In 2012, 31 states have legislation pending that would add or strengthen voter-ID laws, according to the state legislatures conference.

Spakovsky opened by saying that the key principle of any election is to make sure who is voting by requiring identification and determining citizenship. “Those kinds of requirements also increase public confidence in our election process,” he said.

Voter-identification requirements not only prevent fraud by individuals but also prevent double voting and voting in the names of dead people still on the rolls," Spakovsky said.

Spakovsky quoted judicial decisions from federal judges in cases the ACLU brought against photo-ID laws in Georgia and Indiana. Both judges found that plaintiffs in these suits had not demonstrated individuals had been prevented from voting by the laws.

Such laws do not depress voter turnout, Spakovsky said. He cited turnout in Georgia in 2008 which rose 6 percentage points over 2004 when there was no photo-ID law. Indiana had a similar experiencem he said. Acknowledging that a presidential election might be a special case, he said that in Indiana in the mid-term elections of 2010, the African-American share of the vote was larger than in 2006 when there was no photo-ID law.

Murphy responded that the statistics were flawed because they did not account for African-American migration to Georgia and Indiana. She added that the statistics could only count people who voted and could not address the number of people prevented from voting because of the laws.

Minorities, low income people and rural people faced hardships acquiring photo IDs even in states that issue them for free, Murphy said. She reasoned that many people do not have a birth certificate or other required documentation to support issuance of a photo ID. They may not have the money, time off from jobs, or transportation to acquire the supporting documents, she added.

“There are hundreds of polling places but there are not hundreds of places issuing photo IDs,” Murphy said.

Murphy described the history of restricted African-American voting through Jim Crow laws, which were reversed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. She termed the photo-ID laws a “major step backward” from that law.

The two speakers did agree that a major cause of voting fraud is poor record keeping because people who move to other jurisdictions or die often remain on voting rolls. Others may vote in their names, or movers may vote in two jurisdictions. Spakovsky said this kind of fraud could matter in close state elections.