Thank you very much, Mr.
President. Let me just echo Senator Kennedy's strong opposition
to the amendment that is offered by the Senator from Kentucky.
There is no more fundamental
right accorded to United States citizens by the Constitution than
the right to vote. The unimpeded exercise of this right is essential
to the functioning of our democracy. Unfortunately, history has
not been kind to certain citizens in protecting their ability to
exercise this right.
For a large part of our
nation's history, racial minorities have been prevented from voting
because of barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes and property
requirements. We've come a long way. That was clear a few weeks
ago when Democrats and Republicans, members of the Senate and the
House stood on the Capitol steps to announce the introduction of
a bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. That rare and refreshing
display of bipartisanship reflects our collective belief that more
needs to be done to remove barriers to voting.
Right now, the Senate is
finishing a historic debate about immigration reform. It's been
a difficult discussion, occasionally contentious. It's required
bipartisan cooperation. After several weeks and many, many amendments,
we're less than an hour away from voting for cloture. Considering
our progress and the delicate balance we're trying to maintain,
this amendment could not come at a worse time.
Let's be clear. This is
a national voter ID law. This is a national voter ID law that breaks
the careful compromise struck by a 50-50 Senate four years ago.
It would be the most restrictive voter ID ever enacted, one that
could quite literally result in millions of disenfranchised voters
and utter chaos at the state level.
Now, I recognize there's
a certain simplistic appeal to this amendment. Why shouldn't we
require people to have a voter ID card when they vote? Don't we
want to make sure voters are who they claim to be? And shouldn't
we make sure non-citizens are casting ballots to change the outcome
There are two problems
with the argument: number one, there's been no showing that there's
any significant problem with voter fraud in the 50 states. There
certainly is no showing that non-citizens are rushing to try to
vote: this is a solution in search of a problem.
The second problem is that
historically disenfranchised groups - minorities, the poor, the
elderly and the disabled - are most affected by photo ID laws. Let
me give you a few statistics, overall 12% of voting age American
do not have a driver's license, most of whom are minority, new U.S.
citizens, the indigent, the elderly or the disabled. AARP reports
that 3.6 million disabled Americans have no driver's license. A
recent study in Wisconsin this year found that white adults were
twice as likely to have driver's licenses as African Americans over
18. In Louisiana, African Americans are four to five times less
likely to have photo IDs than white residents.
Now, why won't poor people
be able to get photo IDs or Real IDs? It's simple. Because they
cost money. You need a birth certificate, passport or proof naturalization
and that can cost up to $85. Then you need to go to the state office
to apply for a card. That requires time off work, possibly a long
trip on public transportation assuming there's an office near you.
Imagine if you only vote once ever two or four years, it's not very
likely you'll take time off work, take a bus to pay $85 just so
you can vote. That is not something that most folks are going to
be able to do.
The fact of the matter,
Mr. President, is that this is an idea that has been batted around
not with respect to immigration but with respect to generally attempting
to restrict the approach for people voting throughout the country.
This is not the time to do it.
The Carter-Baker commission
in 2002-2004 said fraudulent votes make up .000003% of the votes
cast. That's a lot of zeros. Let me say it a different way. Out
of almost 200 million votes that were cast during these elections,
52 were fraudulent. To put that into some context, you are statistically
more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent
vote in a federal election.
Mr. President, this is
not the appropriate time to be debating this kind of amendment.
We've got a lot of serious issues with respect to immigration. I
would ask that all my colleagues reject the amendment so we can
move on to the important business at hand. Thank you, Mr. President.