Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 (H.R.4844.EH)

The federal election integrity act of 2006 is a low that was passed by the US congress requiring all voters to present a photo ID before being allowed to vote (Tyler 5)  A large percentage of American voters already had IDs that conformed to this regulation.  The law therefore was aimed at the small number of American voters who do not have a government issued ID.

The law requires that when a voter turns up at the polling station without the ID, the voter will be allowed to cast a provisional vote.  An ID must then be presented to the polling station within 48 hours.  The ID will be provided for free to all citizens who have attained the eligible age.  This law is aimed at reducing voting irregularities and fraud.  The voter ID will be required to contain some proof of citizenship.  This is to prevent non-citizens of the USA from voting.  From the year 2010 and beyond, all voters in the United States will be required to present an ID that was issued after one proves their citizenship.  Documents that can be issued to prove one’s citizenship include the birth certificate and a passport.

On September 6, 2006, The Lawyers’ Committee, the ACLU, and People for the American Way went to court to challenge a new law in Missouri that made it mandatory for an identification to be carried by voters. The same kinds of suits were being taken to court in Georgia. Here the case was brought by NAACP, Grass Roots Organizing, the Missouri Citizen Education Fund, The Whole Person, Disabled Citizens Alliance for Independence, and Southwest Center for Independent Living, and individual plaintiffs. The argument was that photo IDs are in contravention to the constitution. In Missouri the affected population is estimated to be about 240,000 people.

In Florida, in August 29, of the same year, a court declared the law requiring voters to carry ID to be unconstitutional. The Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carhanan found out that as much as 240,000 people in Missouri will be locked out by the new voting regulations. The situation was so bad that even a congressman, Ike Skelton could not get an ID. The case in Missouri served as a benchmark for discussions around the country. In Arizona the Proposition 200 which is the equivalent of the new voting laws was enacted. New registration had to be accompanied by some proof of citizenship or risk being rejected. The most affected groups in this instance were the legal citizens of the United States who do not possess citizenship identification papers.

August 13, 2006, members of the US Congress toured Arizona to listen to views of the people on the issue of the new voting law.  One of the people who turned up was a woman named Eva Steele. Her case was moving because though her son serves in the armed forces, she was being shut out of voting. She is handicapped and she lives in a facility for the physically challenged in the state of Arizona.

She had joined others in filing a lawsuit against the new laws in the courts. The house committee on Administration held meetings with the people in New Mexico on August 1, 2006. Many groups of people such as the National voting rights organizations called on the committee to consider the negative impacts of disenfranchisement that will result from implementation of the law before enacting it. They claimed that the number of non citizens casting votes in the country was not that big to warrant such a move. The attention in their opinion should have been focused on making sure that all Americans get a chance to vote in national elections.

In Michigan, the new voters’ law has been in existence though not operational since 1996. It was declared unconstitutional by the Attorney General of the state. In 2005, the bill once again found its way to the state congress and the Supreme Court of  Michigan was to rule if the laws were unconstitutional or not. The National Campaign in June 21, 2006 lobbied for the rejection of the new voter laws in the House of Representatives of the US. They postulated that the bill would undermine fairness and democracy and will be against the constitution.

 On May 24, 2006, interested groups filed a lawsuit in Phoenix Arizona to challenge the laws that required voters to have an ID. The law was known as the Arizona Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act.  The plaintiff side was representative of a broad segment of the society in Arizona.

An attempt by Senator Mitch McConnell to bring an amendment to the Comprehensive Immigration Act of 2006 to disenfranchise a large population of Americans was defeated on May 23, 2006. This was as a result of concerted action by organizations fighting for Voting and civil rights. The alliance of various groups was successful in thwarting the attempts to limit voting rights of many people. Furthermore, the amendments went against the deadline for REAL ID Act. On September 25, 2005 activist defending voting rights as well as lawyers filed a suit in Georgia against the House Bill 244. Their basic argument was that the bill goes against the constitution of the country as well as the state. The bill was signed into law by the governor in April of the same year. The applicants wanted the court to declare the law to be null and void.

The American voting system had been plagued by irregularities that came to during the 2000 elections.  Cases of machine malfunctions, and other voting irregular have beset the American voting system.

Opponents of the act have issued several objections against it. The critics equate the bill to poll tax.  They argue that minority’s poverty stricken and old people who cannot afford to pay for the ID.  Others insist that the much talked about electoral fraud in America is non-existent. They argue as well that it would be infringing on a basic right of American citizens to vote.  They argue that the costs that will come up as a result of implementing the law are prohibitive.  They equate the bill to other measure that has been taken in the past to disenfranchise people such as literacy tests and property ownership.  Furthermore many states do not have the necessary identification the can qualify for the law.

The aim of this paper is to trace the origin of the law.  The drafting of the bill and the political debate forming the context will be analyzed.  A commission of federal election reform was formed on September 2005.  The commission was under the leadership of former president Jimmy Carter.  The commission issued a report in which they called for voter ID to be introduced.  They beseeched congress to come up with a law that will ensure that this happens.  In the aftermath of the 2004 elections the committee sought to ensure that only legitimate American citizens get to vote and to determine the leadership of the country.

In the days following the report’s release, several states brought about legislation that would compel voters to show an ID that is issued by the federal government before being allowed to vote.  These states were Georgia, Illinois, Arizona, and Nevada.

The American democratic system works in such a way that voters have a chance to elect in the leadership of the country.  American democracy has been the hallmark of individual empowerment and the rights of the ordinary people.  Many interested parties have had concerns about the effects of this law on the right to vote that is part of the American culture.

Since the founding of the American republic individual liberties have been cherished.  The American dream is based on the ideal that an individual can achieve all that is possible without unnecessary interference from the government.  The American democracy has been a model that has served as an inspiration to other countries.  The constitution of the United States was drafted to protect the rights of the ordinary citizens. The government issued identity cards was topic of debate because of the fears that some had that it will infringe on the right to vote.

Members of the Democratic Party in particular were leveling accusations against the Republican Party of trying to disenfranchise some voters.  The house minority leader Nancy Pelosi was vehemently opposed to the act.  Congressman for the Democratic Party.  Democrat Tom Daschle who was a member of the committee refused to endorse the recommendation of the committee.  On the floor of the house, democratic representatives voted against the bill.  The bill however passed due to the numerical strength of republican representatives.  Part of the groups that were in danger of being disenfranchised is the elderly, the minorities such as African American, the disabled.  The democrats sought to protect this group of people.  Te law is intended to take effect from the year 2010.

A bill is introduced in the US congress by a member of either the senate or the House of Representatives.  The person who introduces the bill is known as a sponsor.  The bill then is supported by others known as co-sponsors (Ida Brudnick 10).  In the case of the federal integrity act of 2006, the sponsor was Congressman Henry Hyde a republican from Illinois.  The bill was introduced on 2nd March 2006.  The bill was named H.R. 4844. EH to indicate that it originated from the House of Representatives.

The committee stage is the second one in the process of making laws.  Within the chambers of congress there are several committees.  A bill is handled to a relevant committee to handle it (Davidson, Roger, Oleszek  200).  In the process subcommittee considers the bill and if it is deemed worthy it will be presented to the full committee for further discussion.  The committee has the power to either approve the bill and send it to discussion to the congress or discard it.  Once the committee gives the green light, the bill then moves to the next stage which is debate in the full house.  In the case of the H.R. 4844 the committee approved the bill for further debate on September 20.The composition of a committee is therefore crucial to the survival of a bill if a committee is made up of allies the bill stands a greater chance of going through, if not then it is doomed to die in this stage. In the House of Representatives the next stage of the bill is the approval and scheduling by the house rules committee.

The full chamber only gets to debate the bill after it has passed those two stages. There are two ways in which debate is conducted in the house (Davidson, Roger, Oleszek  200). There is the open and closed rule. In the open rule, any member of the house can introduce amendments to the bill. In the closed rule, only members of the committee that approved it can make amendments to the bill. This is done to shorten debate in the house. The issue of the method to be used in debate is an important one since it ends up determining the effectiveness of the legislation. Lobbyists tend to influence the course of a bill during the discussions in the floor of the house. They also try to influence the committee deliberations and senate committees.

Once the bill passes in the House of Representatives the bill is then taken to senate. In the senate, the bill undergoes another discussion in the committees of the senate. The bill is then forwarded to the full senate for further debates. In the senate, bills are discussed automatically and it does not have to be approved by the rules committee of senate (Ethridge 190). Extensive discussions are done in the senate. There is no time limit in the debate on a bill. At times senators tend to derail a bill by dragging the debate to a point where senate has to move to other matters. This is called filibustering.

Many amendments are done in the senate discussions. Once a bill passes, it is checked to find out whether is in the language conforms to the one passed by the lower house. To harmonize the two bills, a temporary conference committee comprising of members from senate and the House of Representatives is formed (Martinez 10). The committee report is then sent to both the Senate and House of Representatives to be discussed. The report is then sent to the president for approval. The president has an option of signing the bill into law. Alternatively, the president can veto the bill or choose to do nothing. The presidential veto can be overruled by a two thirds vote both in senate and the house.

Once a bill passes through these steps it becomes law referred to as public law. In the process of law making, there are many different avenues where special interest groups can still influence the bill. An authorization bill creating relevant agencies to enforce the passed law is necessary. To support this, and appropriations bill is then set up to provide federal funding for the program to take place.

The voting on the Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 was done along party lines. Democrats allied with civil rights movements were against the act. In the end the act prevailed in the House by a vote of 228 to 196 with 8 abstaining. The issue seemed to be treated more as bipartisan rivalry than as an issue of national importance.

Democrats were afraid that the bill would configure the electorate to make it more pro-Republican. The demographics will also change making the electorate to be whiter and well off. The issue of equating the bill to poll tax also came up. Proponents claimed that the bill will stop voter fraud that they claim to be rampant. Other issues that were of importance include provisional ballots, inadequate voting resources in polling stations where minority population is high. This results in ineffective voting due to queuing limitations on voting early and voter registration that is done on the same voting day. A few lawmakers want the voting materials to be written only in English. This serves to reduce voter participation in the elections especially by the minorities.

The right to vote is a basic tenet of a democracy. The government cannot claim to have legitimacy if certain sections of the citizenry are denied this right. The Federal Election Integrity Act of 2006 to its opponents was a way in which members of the privileged sections of the society sought to lock out minorities and the underprivileged class from the exercise of democratic elections in the United States.

This is because the only means through which one can prove citizenship as stipulated is through the passport. Studies indicate that only 20-25% of the population have this document. Many other voters lack such documents as state issued ID cards or even driving licenses (Tyler 9). The most affected people are the poorest in the society. A large segment of the American population would therefore be unable to vote.

For those who support the act, the new rules will end up reducing fraud n the elections in the United States. However, Fraud that is carried about through the use of absentee ballots will not be covered in this act. Proponents of these new restrictions argue that proof-of-citizenship voter identification requirements are necessary to prevent election fraud. Many recent studies that have been undertaken indicate that voter fraud is minimal in elections. Furthermore, voter fraud is usually conducted through which are not affected by these new rules. The act would therefore not be able to contain fraud.

For the proponents, they display concern that election fraud is hurting the democratic process in USA.  They point out the fact that the act requires the federal government to provide an ID card to the poor for free as a positive aspect of the new election law. They also advance the view that the act is in line with the REAL ID Act of 2005, which has introduced the inclusion of citizenship status on driver’s licenses. The law takes effect from the year 2008. This follows a recommendation from the Carter-Baker Commission.