GAO Report in Hand, Dems Step Up Voter ID Offensive

With less than four weeks to go until Election Day, Democrats are stepping up their public offensive against state voter laws -- even pulling the Government Accountability Office into their fight to claim voters are being disenfranchised by GOP efforts.

The protestations from members of Congress may do little to keep voters from having to flash ID at the polls, but set up a post-election landscape where laws and perhaps even results are challenged on claims of voter intimidation and exclusion.

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) requested a comprehensive report on an "alarming number" of new state voter laws. At more than 130 pages long, the GAO report was turned into the senators late last week, as well as the Justice Department and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

The GAO was asked to compile state identification requirements for all eligible voters (including for registering to vote, voting at the polls on Election Day, and absentee voting), which documents satisfy ID requirements, and what happens if voters don't have the proper identification in time to vote.

The senators also requested information on absentee voting and early voting statutes, as well as state requirements relating to third-party voter registration organizations.

"Voter identification requirements vary in flexibility, in the number and type of acceptable documents allowed, and in the alternatives available for verifying identity if a voter does not have an acceptable form of identification. There is variety in how state laws reflect HAVA’s registration identification requirements, and some states have adopted substantive requirements that are in addition to those provided for in federal law, such as proof of citizenship," the report said, referring to the Help America Vote Act passed after the 2000 election recount debacle.

Thirty-one states have requirements for all voters to show ID at the polls on Election Day, and 12 have ID or notarization requirements for absentee ballots. North Dakota, which does not require registration to vote, and certain states that allow election-day registration at polling places are exempt from the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which paired registration opportunities with obtaining a driver's license or with offices that provide public assistance.

Six states -- Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Wyoming -- have voter registration identification requirements in addition to those provided for under federal law in effect for next month's election, the report notes.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have no ID requirements on Election Day. Of the 31 states requiring ID when a voter comes to the polls, 11 mandate a photo ID (three of those states don't even require that it's government-issued) whereas the other 20 allow documents such as a Social Security card, utility bill, or bank statement.

Twenty-seven states and D.C. allow voters to cast absentee ballots without an excuse; an additional six states allow early voting. Those states vary on whether early voting is available on the weekends, during business hours only, or if it's left up to local discretion.

The report outlines the 21 states that passed laws over the past decade making "substantive changes" to voter ID requirements.

"Once states have had voter identification requirements in place for all eligible voters, they have made few substantive changes to the processes for voters who do not present acceptable identification on Election Day," the GAO report states. "For example, with respect to the available options that states provide for voters at the polls who do not have acceptable identification, about two-thirds of the states have not changed whether a particular option is available since the time that HAVA was enacted or the state established voter identification requirements."

The senators asked for details on "any prosecutions or convictions for voter impersonation fraud within each state during the previous 10 years," but the GAO said there was a lack of data to detail such information.

"We must make it easier, not harder, for poor and working people to vote and to participate in the political process," Sanders said. "There is no credible evidence of voter fraud having had any impact whatsoever on the outcome of an election in recent history. Using unfounded scare tactics and isolated cases to weaken the public's faith in elections and to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters is reprehensible."

The report came two days after a Pennsylvania judge partly upheld the state's voter ID law, ruling that voters wouldn't have to show identification at the polls this election but the law would be allowed to go into full effect next year.

The Pennsylvania House Dems tweeted today, "They will ask, but you do NOT have to show #VoterID to cast a ballot. Period."

Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) praised the Pennsylvania decision as "recognizing that requiring citizens to obtain a voter ID places an undue and excessive burden on eligible voters, mostly from minority communities, that is difficult to overcome."