A voter in Glendale, Wis., casts a ballot in a Democratic primary on Thursday, July 12, 2011, as part of recall efforts against Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling. Darling is one of six Republican state senators being targeted for recall for supporting Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill this winter. Three Democratic state senators are also being targeted for recall for fleeing the state to stall action on the bill. (AP Photo/Dinesh Ramde) (AP)

The new Jim Crow?

Democrats in Congress urge the Justice Department to look into new, GOP-authored voter ID laws

Natasha Lennard
July 29, 2011 10:30PM (UTC)

This week over 100 House Democrats wrote to the Department of Justice urging an investigation into whether new voter identification laws -- passed in seven states already this year and under consideration in many more -- violate the Voting Rights Act. 16 Democratic senators made the same request of Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this month.

The laws, which marginally differ from state to state, require that voters will have to bring photo ID -- for the most part government issued -- to the polls next year.


Stricter voter ID requirements at the polls have been passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures claiming to promote honest elections. Democrats, alongside groups including the NAACP, have called foul on the new laws, arguing they disenfranchise minorities, students, the poor and disabled (for the most part, groups with Democratic voting tendencies).

As the letter to the DOJ states:

Approximately 11 percent of voting-age citizens in the country -- or more than 20 million individuals -- lack government-issued photo identification. We urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification bills and scrutinize their implementation.

The Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department to ensure laws are not implemented in a discriminatory manner... [T]he Department should exercise vigilance in overseeing whether these laws are implemented in a way that discriminates against protected clauses in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act specifically bans state laws that disproportionately impact minority voters. Democrats and their allies argue that the requirement of stricter forms of voter ID, especially government issued ID, falls well within this category, since the majority of the 11 percent of voting-age individuals who lack such identification are minorities.


NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and former President Bill Clinton have likened the new restrictions to Jim Crow laws.

"There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today," said Clinton earlier this month.

Republicans in favor of the stricter voter ID requirements insist election fraud is their only concern. However, in Wisconsin, for example -- a state where some of the strictest voter requirements have recently been signed into law -- there's evidence of calculated party politics at work.


After signing in a new voter ID law, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker attempted to shut down around 10 DMV offices in the state -- the very sites where required IDs can be procured. State Democrats have noted that offices targeted for closure fall within areas with strong Democratic voting bases, while in traditionally Republican areas Walker's administration is pushing to extend DMV office hours.

And voter fraud is not even a big problem: A Brennan Center for Justice study found that 44 one-millionths of one percent of votes are cast by people who commit voter fraud.


Watch Stephen Colbert consider Republican concern for voter fraud below:


Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email nlennard@salon.com.

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