Brown Raises Concerns Over Proposed Ohio Photo ID Voting Law, Asks Justice Department to Protect the Voting Rights of All Americans

Brown Joins 15 Other Senators on Letter to Attorney General Holder; New Photo ID Law Could Disenfranchise Seniors, Minorities and Students. Brown Served as Ohio's Top Elections Chief for Two Terms

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined 15 senators on a letter sent today to Attorney General Eric Holder raising concerns over highly restrictive photo identification voting laws currently under consideration or already signed into law in several states across the country. In the letter, Brown and his colleagues ask the DOJ to use its full powers as enacted in the Voting Rights Act to review these laws and their implementation. In Ohio, a bill currently under consideration in the General Assembly includes strict photo ID voting requirements.

“We should encourage seniors, students, and working Americans to vote, but restrictive photo ID requirements could result in the opposite effect,” said Brown, who served as Ohio’s Secretary of State for two terms. “Seniors, racial minorities, low-income voters, and students are less likely than the general population to have a photo ID—and I am extremely concerned that House Bill 159 could severely curtail their ability to exercise their democratic right to vote. As the agency dedicated to protecting Americans’ civil rights, the Department of Justice should closely review all laws—in Ohio and elsewhere across the country—that could potentially discriminate against or disenfranchise voters at the ballot box.”

In the letter, Brown and the senators wrote: “Studies have shown that as high as 11 percent of eligible voters nationwide do not have a government-issued ID…Highly restrictive photo identification requirements at the polls can make it more difficult for well-intentioned voters to cast their ballots, and as far as America’s civil rights trajectory is concerned, that sort of effect takes America in the wrong direction.  We urge you to exercise your authority to examine these laws so that voting rights are not jeopardized.”

In addition to Brown, the letter was signed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Harry Reid (D-NV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Patty Murray (D-WA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mark Begich (D-AK), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Herb Kohl (D-WI.) The full letter to the DOJ is below and the signed copy can be seen here.

Dear Attorney General Holder:

We are writing to express our concerns about highly restrictive photo identification requirements under consideration or already signed into law in several states.  These measures have the potential to block millions of eligible American voters without addressing any problem commensurate with this kind of restriction on voting rights.  Studies have shown that as high as 11% of eligible voters nationwide do not have a government-issued ID.  This percentage is higher for seniors, racial minorities, low-income voters and students.  Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department to review laws before they are implemented in covered jurisdictions.  As you know, the burden of proof in this preclearance process is on those covered jurisdictions, which must be able to show that legal changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters.  New photo identification laws, for instance, must be subjected to the highest scrutiny as states justify these new barriers to participation.  In Section 5 jurisdictions, whenever photo identification legislation is considered, the Department should closely monitor the legislative process to track any unlawful intent evinced by the proceedings. 

Restrictive photo identification requirements are also being considered or have passed in states and jurisdictions that are not covered by Section 5.  The Department should exercise vigilance in overseeing whether these laws are implemented in a way that discriminates against protected classes in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  Additionally, federal civil rights law - 42 USC 1971(a)(2)- prohibits  different standards, practices or procedures from being applied to individuals within a jurisdiction.  We believe the Department should ensure that these photo identification laws do not violate this statute or other federal voting rights statutes.

Highly restrictive photo identification requirements at the polls can make it more difficult for well-intentioned voters to cast their ballots, and as far as America’s civil rights trajectory is concerned, that sort of effect takes America in the wrong direction.  We urge you to exercise your authority to examine these laws so that voting rights are not jeopardized.  We also request that you brief us on the efforts the Department is undertaking to ensure these new laws are implemented in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.  

Thank you for your work protecting the civil rights of all Americans.

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