The American Legislative Exchange Council provides Republican-controlled state legislatures one-size-fits-all voter ID bil
Last May, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed into the law the Voter ID bill. He is the governor who on March 11 signed into law that ended most collective bargaining rights of the state’s public employees, after over three weeks of protests that drew tens of thousands to the capital Madison.
The Voter ID bill is also a contentious piece of legislation. It requires citizens to show a picture ID to vote. The bill is supposed to combat voter fraud. Opponents say that voter fraud in the state is nearly nonexistent and that the real reason for the imposing stricter voting requirements is to disenfranchise potentially thousands of voters likely to vote for Democratic candidates.
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kansas passed similar voter ID laws. At least 33 states have introduced voter ID laws this year, according to the Nation.
In Wisconsin, an acceptable ID is normally a driver’s license, but could be a passport, military ID, state issued ID, or student ID issued from accredited public and private colleges and universities. The student ID must include the student’s photo and signature, and have a two-year expiration date.
A state identification card can be obtained at the Wisconsin DMV for free, but one must request the free ID card for purposes of voting or pay $28. A fee could be construed as a poll tax, which violates the 14th and 15th Amendments. That is why the voter ID cards are always free in states that require photo IDs at the polls.
Impact of Voter ID Legislation
A national telephone survey sponsored by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law looked into the frequency of citizens who do not have photo IDs. Conducted in November 2006 by Opinion Research Corporation, the Brennan Center found that 11 percent of the citizens surveyed said they do not have “current, unexpired government-issued identification with a photograph, such as a driver’s license or military ID.”
Using 2010 census calculations of the citizen voting-age population, this translates to more than 23 million American adult citizens nationwide who do not possess a valid government photo ID. The center noted that the 11 percent finding of their survey is consistent with other data that indicate approximately 12 percent of the national voting-age population has no driver’s license.
Using 11 percent as a baseline, the survey found that percentages increase for groups that tend to vote for Democratic candidates: Among African-American voting-age citizens, 25 percent have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white voting-age citizens. At least 15 percent of voting-age American citizens earning less than $35,000 per year do not have a valid government-issued photo ID. About 18 percent of citizens aged 18–24 do not have photo ID with current address and name.
While the Wisconsin bill and similar ones in other states do not disenfranchise anyone, they are likely to disproportionately depress turnout of African-Americans, the poor, and the young who will have an added hardship in order to vote.
A Texas voter ID bill passed in March. Republican Gov. Rick Perry declared passing a voter ID bill a legislative “emergency.”
Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) told the University of Texas at Arlington newspaper The Shorthorn, “My guess is that any Republican voter ID bill is … a voter suppression bill. I’m not in favor of letting a Republican who has heard rumors of fraud in some area go into that area and deny people the right to vote.”
Troy Fraser (R-Texas 24th), saw it differently. “When buying cigarettes, getting a library card, riding an airplane, or cashing a check, you have to have a picture ID,” he said. “For us to think our most cherished right—the right to vote, should not require a picture ID, it’s hard to understand how anybody could say that.”
ALEC Writes Model Bills
The Wisconsin Voter ID bill was not indigenous to the state. The Wisconsin Voter ID bill and similar bills being considered in other states, was taken from a template or model bill written by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), whose headquarters is in Washington, D.C.
In ALEC, corporations work with state legislators on task forces to write “model bills.”
According to the ALEC website, “ALEC is the only state legislative organization that adopts policies and creates model legislation for its members to use in their states. To date, ALEC has nearly 1,000 pieces of model legislation.”
Not limited to Voter ID bills, ALEC promotes many kinds of model bills. The Washington Spectator, May 15, writes that 14 states have used ALEC model legislation “to draft bills that would drastically restrict the functioning of the Environmental Protection Agency.” ALEC is also trying to repeal what ALEC calls “ObamaCare,” the pejorative term used by opponents of the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Obama in March 2010.
ALEC derives its membership from two sources: individual state legislators and the private sector. ALEC says it stands by the “principles of free markets, limited government, and individual liberty.”
Conservative Paul Weyrich (1942–2008) founded ALEC in 1973 with elected officials. In the same year, he co-founded the Heritage Foundation, which has grown into a highly influential conservative think tank, and he founded the Free Congress Foundation, another conservative think tank.
The National Rifle Association, Family Research Council, Heritage Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, Milliken Foundation, DeVos Foundation, Bradley Foundation, and the Olin Foundation support ALEC. It has hundreds of corporate sponsors.
ALEC states that it is nonpartisan, but of its 104 leadership positions—legislators serving on the ALEC board, co-chairs of ALEC task forces, and state chairmen—only one is a Democrat, according to Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).
Lisa Graves, executive director of CMD, said regarding the ALEC model legislation: “[It doesn’t seem right for elected officials] to try to pass [ALEC] bills and resolutions in state houses across the country, without disclosing to the people they represent the role corporations played in preapproving such efforts to rewrite our laws.”