House Approves Bill Imposing Voter ID Rules

The House has approved a bill that requires all people voting in federal elections to show a photo ID in 2008 and proof of citizenship by 2010. Supporters say it's the only way to fight election fraud. Opponents say the bill would put hurdles in the way of some voters.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The House yesterday approved a bill that would affect the way you vote starting in 2008. It would require that all voters in the 2008 federal election show a photo ID. The bill also requires proof of U.S. citizenship by the 2010 elections. Depending on which lawmaker you talk to, this is a measure to fight fraud or a way to disenfranchise the poor and minorities.

NPR's Luke Burbank reports.

LUKE BURBANK: No one was going to accuse Georgia Republican Charles Norwood of underselling the importance of yesterday's debate.

Representative CHARLES NORWOOD (Republican, Georgia): We deal with an issue that could likely determine the long-term fate of our republic. Voting is a bedrock of our republic, and today we deal with voter fraud.

BURBANK: Norwood and other supporters of HR4844 painted a picture of widespread voting fraud, of election results rendered suspect because the current system is too lax. The simplest way, they said, to monitor who votes in federal elections is to require a photo ID and eventually proof of U.S. citizenship. They named their bill the Federal Election Integrity Act.

Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California): Integrity? It's not about integrity.

BURBANK: Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi didn't like anything about the bill, including its title.

Rep. PELOSI: It's about a tawdry attempt by Republicans to suppress the votes of millions of Americans. That's not integrity.

BURBANK: Pelosi and others in her party charge that the bill was really aimed at disenfranchising the poor, minorities and the elderly, since those groups are less likely to have photo IDs.

Indiana Republican Dan Burton said he was mystified at the resistance.

Representative DAN BURTON (Republican, Indiana): I have great respect for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. But I can't, for the life of me, figure out why they oppose making sure that the people who vote in this country are American citizens. And if you have illegal voting taking place, then every illegal vote takes away the right of one American's vote to count in that election.

BURBANK: Reliable data is hard to come by when trying to figure out just how many fraudulent votes are cast in federal elections. Supporters of the bill said that's because people are getting away with it. Opponents argue it's because voter fraud simply isn't the major issue the bill's backers make it out to be. Democrat Sam Farr of California had other misgivings.

Representative SAM FARR (Democrat, California): Why is this a bad bill? Because it can't be enforced. None of the people sitting here watching, listening, has anything in their wallet that shows they're a citizen of the United States. What's in your wallet that shows you're a citizen?

BURBANK: Unphased by Farr's sly references to those what's-in-your-wallet TV commercials, the bill supporters promised that approved photo IDs would available free of charge to those who needed them, and that accommodations would be made for the Amish and Native Americans or others who don't believe in being photographed.

In the end, the ID vote passed with 228 votes in favor. At roughly the same time the Senate was moving towards approval of a bill that would build a 700-mile fence separating the U.S. and Mexico. The House has been approving such a fence since last winter. It's funding is expected to clear both chambers by next month, just as members are returning home to campaign.

Luke Burbank, NPR News, the Capitol.

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