Heading To The Voting Booth? Bring Your Photo ID

Several states have passed a new law requiring individuals to show government-issued photo IDs to vote. The law's supporters say it will help deter voter fraud, while opponents argue it will make it difficult for minorities, students and the elderly to cast their ballots. Host Michel Martin discusses both arguments with long-time civil rights activist and former Presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson, as well as Republican political strategist Ron Christie.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, it's graduation season and with brand spanking new degrees in hand, many college graduates and their parents are wondering what's next? Will these grads find the job of their dreams or will they be returning to the hotel mom and relying on the bank of dad to supplement that minimum wage gig? That may depend on their majors. A groundbreaking new report outlines just how much college graduates can expect to earn based on field of study. We'll have more on that in just a minute.

But first, we talk politics and we turn to an issue that's become another flashpoint between Democrats and Republicans. It's about whether or not voters should have to show a government issued photo ID in order to vote.

Republicans are arguing that you already have to show such an ID to board an airplane or buy alcohol or even some over the counter medicines, so why shouldn't you have to show ID to do something as important as vote. Last week, Republican governors in Wisconsin and Texas signed bills that made their states among the dozen that now require a photo ID.

But civil rights activists and Democrats, particularly those that represent African-American constituents, say this is a modern twist on a very old story of trying to disenfranchise minority voters who happen to vote Democratic, who tend to vote Democratic.

Joining us to talk about this is long-time civil rights activist and former presidential candidate, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He is the CEO and founder of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition. He joins us on the line from New York City. Welcome Reverend Jackson, thank you so much for joining us. (technical difficulties)

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MARTIN: I'm so sorry. We're obviously experiencing some technical difficulty. We're having trouble reaching our guest. We are going to continue to try to bring you this conversation but in the meantime we're going to play some music while we try to sort things out. Please stay with us.

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MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

We're talking about legislation that's advancing right now in a number of states, generally pushed by Republicans, and bills that have already been signed into law that would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to cast ballots.

I'm joined by the long-time civil rights advocate and former presidential candidate, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He opposes that idea. Also with us, Ron Christie. He's a Republican political strategist, a former White House aide in the George W. Bush administration. He also worked for Vice President Dick Cheney. He's also with us often to talk politics.

Ron Christie, I'm going to press Reverend Jackson's question to you. The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, for example, points to Wisconsin as an example. They say that 78 percent of African-American males aged 18 to 24 lacked a valid drivers license. And the argument is, this does have a disproportionate impact on some communities. And they would also argue that if they can find really is the integrity of the ballot, why isn't there an equal push against, say, voter intimidation?

RON CHRISTIE: Well, I think that you need to take steps like what Georgia has done to ensure that all people regardless of their skin or their age have the ability to vote. In 2005, the Georgia statute or the Georgia legislature passed a statute that said that you had to have that voter-issued ID. And, in fact, that was struck down as being unconstitutional and violating section two of the Voting Rights Act.

So the legislatures went back. And they said, okay, we're going to issue these ID cards for free to ensure that people have the right to vote. Not only that, we're going to allow people to issue a provisional ballot on the day of the election to ensure that if they don't have a state-issued ID at that time that they can still vote, but still prove they are eligibility status after that.

MARTIN: So, they have to go and present one after the fact?

CHRISTIE: After the fact. And I would add that they say for people who are 65 years or older, that you don't have to come under the provisions of this particular statute because of your age.

So, if you look at it exempting certain seniors, if you looked at allowing people certain provisional ballot status, and you look at Georgia and many other states who allow people to get an issued identification card from the state for free, I think that that dissuades many of the opponents who say, oh, that this is somehow disproportionately discriminatory against people of color.

MARTIN: The other argument - go ahead, reverend.

The Reverend JESSE JACKSON: Well, Michel, what Georgia has done is extraordinary. It is not common what Georgia has done, issuing the ID and making it more accessible. But the price we pay just to register to vote is really a very high price in the first place.

MARTIN: But what about Ron Christie's point, though, that there has been very expensive undocumented immigration in this country over the last decade. That's not a fact that's in dispute. And at some measures are reasonable to ensure that only eligible people vote. What do you say to that?

JACKSON: You know, if you were to go and get a traffic ticket today and drivers license and they pull you over, within four minutes they know who you are, citizen or not, whether you have a traffic ticket or not. And so, today's technology protects us from that. Besides, there's more evidence of widespread voter fraud in the first place. If this were an issue, we would need to protect the integrity of the ballot. There's evidence of widespread voter fraud.

MARTIN: Now, let me ask you this. This is a question I was trying to ask earlier. After the 2000 election in which so many people were so angry about the process. As everybody remembers that, you know, the voting went on for days, the decision was ultimately taken by the Supreme Court to resolve this. A bipartisan commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker - former secretary of State, former secretary of the Treasury certainly, you know, trusted adviser to many Republican presidents and former President Jimmy Carter, a bipartisan commission evaluated all of these matters, both voter fraud allegations and voter intimidation.

And that commission, which was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats said that there was really no evidence of either one being particularly widespread. That they're isolated incidents of both, but no widespread evidence of either. So the question, Ron, that I would ask is, if that's the case, why is this really necessary? And why isn't there a comparable effort being directed toward voter intimidation?

CHRISTIE: If there is one voter who has come across the borders illegally or if there is a convicted felon who doesn't have the right to vote, who has otherwise registered to vote and cast that ballot, then that is one invalid ballot cast that really calls into question the integrity of our system.

So if you say, well, it's not widespread, it's not proven; I say it is a privilege to vote in this country. All 50 states should ensure and take every step necessary to ensure that we have the sanctity of the ballot box. And, frankly, putting some more restrictive measures on there is not that big of a deal. We have to flash our ID at the airport or buying Claritin, whatnot. Getting a state issued, in my opinion, identification, is not that big of a deal.

MARTIN: But, reverend, I'm going to go to you. But I'm sorry, I just want to finish this one...

JACKSON: ...they'll make an adjustment. We've been able to use utilities bills. And we know in Florida in 2000, the use of the prison roles in Texas frustrated the process. We saw it happen in Florida in 2000. We saw it happen in Ohio in 2004. That's (unintelligible). The right to vote is still the issue that must be protected. And why add additional burdens? It's not necessary.

MARTIN: But, Ron, I'm asking you, if one person voting who's ineligible to vote is a problem, why isn't one person being intimidated equally a problem? And why isn't there a similar push on that?

CHRISTIE: Because in 2001, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission headed by friend then, Mary Frances Berry, concluded that there was no widespread voter intimidation.

MARTIN: Reverend, what about Ron Christie's point? His point is that if anybody votes who is ineligible to vote, that that compromises the integrity of the entire process?

JACKSON: That's correct. Voter intimidation is illegal. It should be prosecuted when it's proven. And the voter restriction should be rejected. The same process(ph) that sought to deny the vote target suppressing the vote. And if they can target enough, five to seven percent of seniors and black, Latinos and youth, they will determine the outcome of the election.

MARTIN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson is a long-time civil rights activist. He's founder of the Rainbow Push Coalition. Ron Christie is a Republican political strategist, author and CEO of his own communications and issue management firm. They were both here with us from New York. And I thank you both so much for joining us.

CHRISTIE: Pleasure to join you.

JACKSON: Thank you.

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