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DNC Pushes Back Against Voter ID Laws

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Updated 1:49 p.m.

The Democratic National Committee announced new initiatives today to push back against voter identification laws that Democrats say suppress the vote.

A new website, ProtectingtheVote.org, makes the case that actual instances of voter fraud are rare, despite Republicans’ success in passing stricter laws to combat fraud in dozens of states. Democrats accuse the GOP of trying to stifle minority votes as a way to win elections.

The site and an accompanying report, “A Reversal in Progress,” are the first step in an “unprecedented voter protection effort,” DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) said during a conference call.

“We’re aggressively engaged in making sure that we help voters remove these obstacles and barriers,” Wasserman Schultz said, adding that the voter ID laws favored by Republicans are “essentially designed to rig an election.”

In addition to registering voters and recruiting volunteers to help with voter-protection efforts through the new website, Democrats plan to begin organizing lawyers next month to help them monitor the 2012 presidential elections — as they have in past cycles.

“We are prepared to take that action as we move toward the elections,” said Will Crossley, the DNC’s director of voter protection.

As they monitor the elections, those lawyers are expected to keep a close eye on a national tea party effort to train poll watchers and workers.

Crossley said Democrats are also open to pursuing legal action against restrictive voter laws and vote-suppression efforts.

The voter protection effort aims to engage grass-roots activists in state-level campaigns to fight such initiatives. Wasserman Schultz highlighted an effort in Maine, where Democrats helped gather more than 70,000 signatures for a people’s veto earlier this month that reinstated Election Day registration.

“Democrats will support policies that allow for more political participation,” Wasserman Schultz said.

Republicans have argued that requiring voters to bring photo identification to the polling booth will prevent voter impersonation and attempts to vote by those who are not allowed to do so. A report released by the Heritage Foundation this summer cited studies showing that voter-identification laws have not led to reduced voting in states where they exist.

"The American people overwhelmingly agree that protecting the integrity of our democracy begins at the ballot box," Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, told Roll Call. "Photo IDs are required to drive a car, collect government assistance and fly on a plane. Knowing President Obama is facing a steep climb to re-election, Democrats are resorting to scare tactics rather than addressing voter fraud."

But Wasserman Schultz said the photo identification requirements that are now law in more than 30 states skew the vote in Republicans’ favor by disproportionately targeting minorities, young voters, seniors and low-income populations.

On the conference call, the chairwoman said 11 percent of Americans lack photo identification required to vote under these laws, including 25 percent of African-Americans and 19 percent of Hispanics.

The identification laws could disenfranchise those voters in an attempt to combat fraud that does not exist, she argued.

“The truth is that every major investigation into voter fraud … has arrived at the same conclusion: There is almost none,” Wasserman Schultz said.

The Democratic initiative rolled out on the same day that the House is expected to vote on a Republican effort to abolish the Election Assistance Commission, a bipartisan panel created by President George W. Bush in 2002 to improve voting systems and ensure fair elections.

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