March 4, 2011
Senate State Administration Committee
Montana State Capitol
Helena, Mt. 59601
Re: Senate State Administration Committee hearing on HB152
Members of the Committee:
We, the undersigned coalition of voting, disability and civil rights organizations write to express our strong opposition to HB152 and urge you to vote "no" on this bill. Quite simply, it would enshrine an anti-democratic, discriminatory and unconstitutional poll tax into Montana state law.
Unlike the Indiana photo ID bill that was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Crawford v Marion County Election Board, HB152 does not provide a mechanism for Montanans who lack the identification required in the bill to acquire one free of charge. As was stated in Billups v Georgia, and alluded to by the Supreme Court in Crawford, this constitutes an unconstitutional poll tax under the Twenty-Fourth Amendment and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On this basis alone, the Montana State Senate should reject this egregious legislation.
Additionally, if passed into law, HB152 would make Montana's identification requirements the strictest in the nation. Not only would it impose a financial burden on Montanans' right to vote, but would disallow the use of other forms of government issued identification such as those issued by state colleges and universities, the U.S. government (military identification for instance). Moreover, the bill does not provide a mechanism for voters who arrive at polling places without the required identification to cast a provisional ballot and prove their identity at a later date (as is currently allowed in Georgia and Indiana). This constitutes a violation of the Help America Vote Act.
HB152 is a solution in search of a problem. Supporters of this bill argue it is needed to combat voter fraud. However, numerous investigations and studies have failed to provide evidence of systematic voter fraud that would be addressed by requiring government-issued photo identification at polling places. Instead, this bill will only erect barriers to the ballot box for Montana voters.
Two national surveys have found that large numbers of American citizens do not possess a valid, government-issued photo ID, or the required documents to obtain a photo ID (e.g. birth certificate or passport). Additionally, ten percent of all people with disabilities do not have up-to-date state issued identification. Given the decided lack of evidence of in-person voter fraud, this law creates a substantial burden on Montana's voters. As Secretary of State Linda McCulloch stated in the Helena Independent Record, "It's irresponsible for anyone to allege voter fraud based on gossip, hearsay or political posturing. It's even more extreme when some legislators use those false claims of voter fraud as a sham excuse to propose unnecessary and reckless bureaucratic hurdles that will make it harder for you and other eligible Montanans to vote. "
Instead of focusing on unconstitutional measures that serve only to disenfranchise voters, we encourage this committee to vote "no" on HB152 and look at common sense, secure reforms that will increase civic participation across the state and ease the burden on election officials and voters alike.
ACLU Voting Rights Project
American Association of People with Disabilities
Black Youth Vote!
Fair Elections Legal Network
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
League of Women Voters of the United States
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
People For the American Way
Rock the Vote
United States Student Association