© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Durbin to hold hearings on GOP efforts to impose voting restrictions

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 6, 2011 - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. and the Senate's No. 2 Democratic leader, plans to zero in this week on the Republican-led efforts in a number of states to enact laws tightening requirements for voter registration and voter verification and limiting early voting.

Durbin plans to hold a hearing Thursday on such voting-related issues in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

Witnesses will include: Judith Brown Dianis, Co-Director of the Advancement Project; Professor Justin Levitt, Loyola Law School; and Hans van Spakovsky, Heritage Foundation.

The witnesses include advocates and critics of such restrictions. But Durbin's announcement of the hearing makes clear that the senator sides with the general Democratic perspective.

"Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud," said Durbin's hearing announcement. "The overwhelming evidence, however, indicates that voter impersonation fraud is virtually non-existent and that these new laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of elderly, disabled, minority, young, rural, and low income Americans to exercise their right to vote."

The hearing takes place as a number of states, most of them with Republican governors, have taken action -- or are preparing to soon do so -- to impose restrictions on voters and voting.

According to the nonpartisan Council of State Governments, seven states currently require photo identification at the polls, and more may soon follow. Many of the states contemplating the restrictions are in the Midwest.

A number of states also are considering proposals to curb early voting, now in place in more than 30 states. Democrats contend that Republicans believe that early voting helps Democrats, although experts are divided. Republicans have raised questions about ballot security, and cost.

Missouri Photo ID Battle Could Come Up Soon

Durbin's hearing also will come just a week before such a voting-rights debate may take place in the Missouri General Assembly, which will have its chance to try to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill implementing the proposed constitutional amendment to require Missouri voters to show government-issued photo IDs at the polls.

Backers contend that such identification -- now required in seven states and being considered in others -- is needed to guard against potential fraud. Opponents contend that Republicans are moving to get more restrictive laws in place by the 2012 presidential election, in order to depress Democratic turnout.

A proposed photo ID mandate will be on Missouri's 2012 ballot, after the Republican-controlled General Assembly vote to resurrect the requirement several years after the state Supreme Court ruled that Missouri's constitution currently bars such a requirement for voters. This time, voters will be asked to amend the state's constitution.

The implementation bill vetoed by Nixon laid out how such a mandate would work. The bill's aim, in part, was to allay concerns of some affected voters -- particularly the elderly, some of whom would be affected because they lack a drivers license, the most common form of government-issued photo ID.

Nixon, a Democrat, won a standing ovation at a major Democratic dinner just hours after he issued his veto in June.

He said in his official veto letter that he believed the photo ID requirement "would disproportionately impact senior citizens and persons with disabilities, among others, who are qualified to vote and have been lawfully voting since becoming eligible to do so, but are less likely to have a driver's license or government-issued photo ID."

The secretary of state's office has estimated that at least 170,000 registered voters in Missouri lack a driver's license.

The legislature's veto-override prospects haven't been discussed much since Nixon's announcement, particularly in the wake of all the unrelated buzz and hype over the General Assembly's special session, which begins Tuesday and will focus primarily on economic issues.

Nixon's vetoed bills won't come up until Sept. 14, when the annual veto-session is held.

The questions now are whether Durbin's hearing makes reference to Missouri's battle -- and if any of Missouri's players will be tuning in, perhaps to get debating tips.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.