NEW YORK—National Urban League President Marc Morial last week expressed strong opposition to U.S. House legislation requiring voters to show proof of citizenship to register to vote and then provide government-issued photo identification to cast ballots in the 2006 general elections and beyond.
Introduced by Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, the legislation, entitled the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 (H.R. 4844), went before the House Administration Committee on Sept. 14.
In a letter to House Administration Committee chair Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., and ranking member Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., Morial characterized the bill's proof-of-citizenship requirement as a "21st century poll tax."
"This measure is being sold as a measure to prevent voter fraud, when in reality it would encourage discrimination and prevent many eligible voters from exercising the most sacred and important civil right they have — the right to vote," Morial wrote.
Only about one-quarter of eligible voters have passports, which now cost $97 to obtain, and naturalization papers used to prove citizenship cost $210 to be replaced. Furthermore, an estimated 6 to 12 percent of voters do not have government-issued photo I.D., according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
People of color, people with disabilities, the elderly, the young and people who live in poverty are among the groups least likely to have documents to prove their citizenship. Without provisions giving financial aid to citizens who cannot afford such identification, the legislation discriminates against them, Morial contended.
A U.S. District Court recently characterized a similar requirement in Georgia as a "poll tax," when it struck the state law down as unconstitutional.
Morial argued that the measure's requirements pose a "great threat" to fair and equal voting rights and that the nation's citizenry would be better served by encouraging full participation in the political process, rather than limiting the right to vote.
"While it would be great if all citizens had a passport or birth certificate readily available, the truth is that many do not, which means that they would have to pay in order to vote," Morial wrote.