Congressmen seek review of voter ID laws

WASHINGTON — Does requiring a photo ID to vote return America to the days when poll taxes and literacy tests make it hard for minorities to cast ballots? Are state lawmakers trying to make it harder for people to vote?

Two top House Judiciary Committee Democrats want to know, and on Monday they asked Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, to hold hearings on those laws, which have been adopted or are pending in 37 states.

Smith is reviewing the request, and he had no immediate comment.

"As voting rights experts have noted, the recent stream of laws passed at the state level are a reversal of policies, both federal and state, that were intended to combat voter disenfranchisement and boost voter participation," said Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Conyers is the committee's top Democrat. Nadler is the top Democrat on its Constitution subcommittee.

They're concerned about new laws in 13 states, including Kansas, that they say will curb access to the ballot box.

The changes require voters to present government-approved identification cards, curb voter registration drives by third-party groups, curtail early voting, end same-day registration and overturn rules that give convicted felons who've served their time the right to vote.

Twenty-four states are considering similar measures, according to New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, which issued a report on the topic in October.

Others maintain there's no evidence that a systemic effort is under way to intimidate voters. Some maintain that voter ID laws are popular and can help boost confidence in the system.

"There's not a great deal of evidence of voter fraud" through impersonation, said John Samples, the director of the Center for Representative Government at Cato Institute, a libertarian research group.

Passing voter ID laws, he said, is unlikely to affect turnout.