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ntro: Grassroots groups in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Colorado are helping GOP targets obtain credentials to vote in 2012.

Voters hold ID as they wait to check in to vote in Primary election. (photo Matt Stanley)
Voters hold ID as they wait to check in to vote in Primary election. (photo Matt Stanley)

Voting Rights Uprising: Activists Help GOP's Targets Get Voter ID

By George Bauer, AlterNet

30 April 12


Grassroots groups in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Colorado help GOP targets obtain credentials to vote in 2012.

he GOP-led effort to disenfranchise likely Democratic voting blocks by enacting tougher state voter ID laws has run into a new obstacle: targeted populations are fighting back as voting rights advocates are helping people obtain the necessary ID.

Grassroots efforts in Tennessee, Wisconsin and Colorado are profiled in a new report, "Got ID? Helping Americans Get Voter Identification," from Common Cause, Demos, Fair Elections Legal Network, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. The report is an important counterpoint to persistent progressive messaging about the GOP's attack on voting rights that typically has not informed people how to overcome the barriers.

"This report gives Americans the tools they need to fight back and make their voices heard," said Jenny Rose Flanagan, director of voting and elections at Common Cause.

The battle over tougher ballot access is a years-long fight where proponent's arguments are not supported by facts on the ground and mask their partisan goals - shaping the electorate to achieve or maintain political power. There is nothing new about enacting laws (or running campaign ads) to discourage voting.

In 2003, states began enacting photo ID laws. Pushed by Republicans and a few conservative Southern Democrats, the goal was to restrict voting by slices of society the power-brokers considered undesirable: minorities, low-income people, students, the disabled and elderly - the very people likely to vote against them. Proponents proclaimed photo ID laws would protect election integrity of the process by prevent unregistered voters from casting ballots, and preclude miscreants from voting more than once. They said people could not board a flight without a photo ID, so why not require the same for voting, which is far more important than merely taking a trip.

The problem is that not everyone has a state-issued photo ID - particularly people who do not drive, such as many inner city residents, students and older people. Moreover, voting fraud - or posing as another person and casting a ballot - is rare. If it does happen, it usually is singular instances that are typically caught by election officials and prosecuted. Even right-wing provocateur James O'Keefe's recent gambits to try to fraudulently vote (such as in the 2012 New Hampshire Primary) saw him flee - for fear of being arrested. Nonetheless, GOP majorities have passed tougher state ID laws, affecting millions, knowing that elections can turn on very slim margins.

To date, 30 states require voters to show ID to get a ballot. The toughest version of this law, requiring residents present a specific state-issued photo ID, are in place in five states: Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Other states have passed photo ID laws, but those changes have either been rejected by the U.S. Department of Justice in South Carolina and Texas, which has jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, or face a pending DOJ decision (Alabama), or have been suspended by a federal court (Wisconsin, although an appeal is pending). Several other states are considering similar legislation. A Virginia bill is back before its legislature. Minnesota will vote on it in November.

Unlike 2008, grassroots groups in key states are working to empower voters to obtain the needed ID to vote this fall. Three states are setting an example for others to follow.


In typical Badger State style, local groups have galvanized around the voting rights challenge imposed by the state's photo ID law - which was adopted by the Republican majority in 2011 but was recently found unconstitutional by a federal court. The state's GOP leaders have appealed. Meanwhile, activists are not taking any chances - not with a gubernatorial recall election and presidential election this year.

"A lot of organizations are running on limited resources, using a lot of volunteers to try to help people get IDs if that's possible," said Tova Wang of Demos.

That's exactly what's happening. "Milwaukee provides free birth certificates for those who don't have them, and activists are providing free transportation to the Department of Motor Vehicles so voters can get IDs," she said.

Another key program, Wisconsin Voices, developed a relationship with the Department of Motor Vehicles. Advocates filed a public records request and got more than 2 million names of residents with drivers' licenses. That was cross-referenced with a voter contact and management system. As a result, 1.3 million individuals were identified who may need photo IDs to vote.

To help college students, meanwhile, organizers set up the "Be a Voter!" program to get thousands of them registered before upcoming elections. Milwaukee churches also were mobilized to assist inner-city residents take the steps necessary to get proper identification. And a group called "9to5" focuses its outreach on low-income women and young people so they can get proper credentials. Elderly advocates are also assessing how many eligible voters lack birth certificates in senior centers.


In Tennessee, the Voter Assistance Coalition has been reaching out to communities though a network of grassroots partners - unions, churches and students and teachers at colleges and universities, according to Ben Hovland, an attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network. The coalition has been identifying those who lack credentials, primarily people without driver's licenses, which is about 10 percent of prospective voters.

"Now, to get a driver's license, you need a birth certificate," Hovland explained. "Some people don't have one, have lost it, and some are born outside a hospital and never got one." The Coalition walks people through the arduous task of getting a birth certificate, and then a driver's license. Once it helps people to secure birth certificates, local churches provide rides to DMV offices so people can get photo required IDs.

For older Tennessee residents there's an added problem. The state does not require older drivers to have photographs on their licenses and Holvand says many folks don't have them. The Coalition has been assisting seniors to get new licenses with photos. What Tennessee is doing can be done anywhere, he said. "Our hope is that in places where there are these bad laws that citizens and community groups can help their fellow residents so that fewer people will be disenfranchised."


Colorado does not have a photo ID law for voting. But low-income state residents have had to deal with a similar intrusion, said Common Cause's Flanagan. In 2006, its legislature required picture ID for people who receive public benefits. That spawned the Collaborative ID project, which is now working to ensure eligible voters will not face obstacles at the polls.

Linda Olson, senior attorney for Colorado Legal Services, said during a special session that year, lawmakers passed several immigration bills. One of them was H.B. 1023 on public benefits. "The thinking was there were undocumented people receiving public benefits and this was a way to weed them out by requiring everyone to have a state ID," Olson said. "The reality is they didn't find hardly any undocumented people getting public benefits."

For the past six years, the Collaborative ID project has helped people get birth certificates and IDs. "Some are lawfully present immigrants but most of our clients are U.S. citizens," Olson said. The project has already helped 10,000 people obtain proper IDs, Flanagan said, but it's a costly undertaking. The need has outstripped what the group can do, Olson said. Foundation funding provides money so the poor can get birth certificates or other ID. "We have $5,000 a month for that and we're usually turning people away by the fifth of each month," she said.

National Model

While other state legislatures across the country consider voter ID legislation, "We're hopeful we won't continue to see these laws passed," said Common Cause's Flanagan. "Once these laws pass, the impact is so great." The Fair Election Legal Network's Hovland agreed. "These laws are unnecessary and they certainly are going to have an impact on certain segments of the population."

Whether the number of states increases, the Got ID? report suggests more groups must step forward to help eligible voters.

"It is vitally important that community leaders, particularly those who work with communities of color, young people, seniors, and people with disabilities take an active role in helping voters acquire the requisite photo ID," said Chris Melody Fields, of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

"Many local organizations are just beginning to get started," Wang noted, "and hopefully there will be more funding."

The report is a wake-up call to voting rights advocates: get moving to ensure everyone can vote. And time is running out. The presidential election is just 28 weeks away. your social media marketing partner


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-21 # Martintfre 2012-04-30 09:24
The only people I see trying to disenfranchise any voters is my democratic state rep who used union lawyers to disqualify my petition and others because I dared to help put up an opponent on the ballot. Then he ran a vigorous write in campaign to guarantee the voters had no choice but him come that fall election
-27 # Martintfre 2012-04-30 09:37
If you don't like voter ID laws --

What then is your best solution to prevent stuffing the ballot box? by any party?
+23 # Buddha 2012-04-30 10:47
One doesn't need a "solution" for a "problem" that study after study has shown doesn't exist in any significant fashion. In fact, the very idea of it is ludicrous. Your suppossition is that to geek elections, thousands of operatives in each state are standing in line, sometimes for hours, voting, then going to a different location (so they have less chance of being recognized and arrested for voter fraud), standing in line again, and doing it over and over, all in one day?! And furthermore, the "solution" for that possibility that exists only in your mind is to disenfranchise millions of Americans, and it is just a COINCIDENCE that those most targeted by these laws happen to be poor, minorities, students and elderly, which again, just coincidentally, happen to vote Dem more than GOP. Go on, pull the other one.
-14 # Martintfre 2012-04-30 11:01
Budda - since some one was able to walk into a Washington DC precinct and vote as Eric Holder (Incase you don't know he nations top cop) I think that there actually is a potential for a huge problem.

Personally I like the idea that that Iraqi's had -- blue dye on the index finger at the voting place that takes a few days to wear/wash off so once you have voted - legit or not - you are marked as having voted.
+9 # Buddha 2012-04-30 16:21
Again, just because "someone voted as Eric Holder" in a single anecdotal case doesn't make such voter fraud a true problem that occurs at any significant level, especially at a level that calls for the systematic disenfranchisem ent of millions of American citizens who are too poor to have a government issued ID card. If you are truly concerned about "potential for a huge problem", then perhaps you should be more concerned about the widespread use of Diebold voting machines which lack a paper trail and have been shown to be remotely hackable with $10 in parts and a rudimentary knowledge of electronics? Again, real world studies have shown that prosecutable cases of voter fraud (not registration fraud) are about 0.0007 percent of votes. And yet somehow the GOP solution is to implement a neo-poll tax so anybody without a government ID, who tend to be Dem-voting minorities and the poor, cannot execute their Constitutional Rights? One would almost think the GOP has an ulterior motive here, huh?
+7 # Vermont Grandma 2012-04-30 22:17
No one voted as Eric Holder. Rather a white activist went to Holder's polling place, fraudulently identified himself as Eric Holder, living at Eric Holder's address and was offered a ballot. This alone, I imagine, was voter fraud, and the person who did this should have been charged criminally even though he didn't take the ballot or vote it.
This kind of stunt doesn't prove that real voter fraud exists or people are stuffing the ballot boxes with fake votes. The research has shown again and again and again and again that this is not happening.
And if folks are really worried about this, precincts could be made small enough and staffed by local folks who know the voters --- an approach that would result in more local involvement in elections and reduce the already non-existent risk of voter fraud.
The US is way behind Canada in assuring that those eligible to vote get on the voter rolls. There government "enumerators" go out, find out who the adults are that live in a particular location, and put them on the voter list, whether or not the person is present when the enumerator arrives. Canada, apparently, really believes in citizens voting, not like the US where barriers are put in place to registering to vote and to voting itself.
It is an embarrassment for this nation to claim to be a leader in democracy and so publicly show that the US version of democracy is keeping eligible citizens from casting their ballots.
+22 # Buddha 2012-04-30 10:42
This is awesome...I wonder what Plan B is for the GOP to keep geeking elections. I'm guessing pushing for more Diebold electronic voting machines, which lack a paper receipt and have been shown to be very vulnerable to outside hacking.
+4 # Vermont Grandma 2012-04-30 22:18
Check your facts. No one actually voted as Eric Holder. The only people who are shown in recent times use another person's identity to receive a ballot are people who are trying to get everyone riled up about "voter fraud."
+17 # readerz 2012-04-30 10:49
The only proven voter fraud was done by those who removed voters who had resided in the same place for many years because their names were similar to other names.

Ohio is adding another way to prevent voting: they are changing voting precincts in democratic parts of the state, reducing polling places and changing locations, between the primary and the Presidential election.

We will need help in Ohio, not only getting people ID (especially women since women need birth certificates and also marriage licenses or divorce papers often), but also telling people where they now can vote.

If at all possible, vote early, because that leaves a paper trail, and also the reduced number of voting places will certainly prevent people from voting, as in the 2004 election.

And, we have Republican money pouring into this state right now; Ohioans are not rich for the most part, and often will vote for the only person in TV ads, and often for state offices such as judges that would be a Republican. Ohio needs help.
-15 # Martintfre 2012-04-30 11:07
As I understand it Unions require the showing of ID -- and now they want to remove the secret ballot so they know who to intimidate for not voting the right way.
+10 # carolsj 2012-04-30 12:32
I appreciate the efforts to get voters qualified, but then we have to be vigilant about hacking our ballots and counts. Never underestimate the cheaters.
+4 # Vermont Grandma 2012-04-30 22:21
The cheaters are those who put barriers in place to keep eligible citizens from voting in order to "win" elections. This kind of cheating in southern states kept African-America n citizens from voting for decades. Much bigger and more persistent problem that any ballot box being stuffed.
+5 # Bodiotoo 2012-04-30 17:34
When the man says he is going to knock you out in the fifth best be watching!

So they want to bring on "Voter ID". Fine lets get a step ahead of them and start helping those who do not have the usual driver's license, passport, up to snuff.

I.E. Stay ahead of the curve, instead of complaining about what they are trying to do...volunteer today and just take one person who needs the help through the steps. You have some time to help!

It is time the Progressive Movement lit a candle under young the way the Republicans did in 1980...they recruited on campus and really pushed...the right wing agenda that we suffer with now...we need the 16-24 year olds lining up on the progressive side, and with any luck America may be on a much better path in ten years.
+5 # psadave 2012-04-30 19:10
After living in Missouri, Texas, Kentucky, Washington, Colorado, and New Mexico, I moved to Oregon and learned that here they voted by mail! You register and they send you ballots weeks ahead of the election date. If you want, you fill out the ballot, place them in the provided envelope and put on a stamp and mail it back. If you wait too long to get it back through the mail, there are dedicated boxes placed in multiple locations where you can take the envelopes with you ballot. There are agencies that will pick them up if you are disabled or for some other reason, you cannot get the ballot back. It works GREAT! No standing in line. If you move, just update your address with the government. I can't figure out why other states don't do it this way.
+2 # giraffee2012 2012-05-01 13:19
If you live in one of these states - please contact your Dem Headquarters to get information to get these people registered. There are 51 documents to prove citizenship by Federal standards. Arizona is using only 9 of the 51 to try to get their immigration bill through U.S. Supreme Court.

It is imperative to just get the young, old, minorities registered and to the polls --- can't fight the government of these states from "passing law" -- but YOU CAN GET around the laws by making sure these people vote.

IF they don't vote and we get more GOP/TP in Congress & W.H. as a result -- we are committing democracy suicide.

Does anybody know how these state legislators can pass these laws if they violate Federal law (i.e. constitution etc)?

I cannot find answer but don't see anyone investigating this matter.
+3 # BeaDeeBunker 2012-05-02 00:14
Once again I hate to be the one to be a bit cynical about this whole 'voter fraud' charade, for that is what it is...a charade. Who stole two (2) elections in recent history? Don't have to answer that, it's rhetorical. Who pushed through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA); the one that was 'supposed' to HELP Americans to vote? Don't answer that one either because I have inside knowledge that it was a mistake by the government printing office. In reality, and in practice the act was the Hinder America Vote Act.
There is no voter fraud by those few Americans who take the time to actually vote. The GOP wants us to believe the that little old Grandmother who has been voting at the same exact polling place, in front of the same friends and neighbors, for 50 years, but doesn't have a photo ID, is the problem, and should not be allowed to vote without that photo ID, because they can't be sure who she really is. But, they know her children and her grandchild, and brothers and sisters, and it's true, her signature has changed a bit over the fifty years, and two hundred elections (but who's counting), so why not deny her the vote! Give me a sweet petunia break!!
The real problem is that not enough Americans vote...period! A 50% turnout of ELIGIBLE voters does not a democracy make. Do the math. A majority of 50% is more like 26% electing a president. It's sheer madness; it's crazy; it's ridiculous, really.

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