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Questions I Want (But Don't Expect) to Hear at Tomorrow's Senate Hearing

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[Image courtesy of Senate Judiciary Committee]

Tomorrow - September 8, 2011 - the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights will hold a hearing entitled "New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballot?"

Subcommittee Chair Richard Durbin (D-IL) said in a press release announcing the hearing that it would examine "a rash of new state voting laws that threaten to suppress turnout across the country." The release goes on note that

These new laws significantly reduce the number of early voting days, require voters to show restrictive forms of photo identification before voting, and make it harder for volunteer organizations to register new voters. Supporters of these laws argue that they will reduce the risk of voter fraud. 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.

I've already made it pretty clear that I don't buy the conventional wisdom underlying the current election policy debates underway across the country. However, in the slim chance that one or more members of the Subcommittee is ready for a little unconventional wisdom, here are a few questions that I think would go a long way toward illuminating the current debate and sending it in a more productive direction.

For witnesses who support the new state laws -

  1. Would you agree that upgrading voter registration systems to better account for voters who have moved or died would reduce concerns about impersonation fraud?
  2. Are there any other reasons to adopt photo ID requirements besides preventing fraud, given that evidence of fraud seems to be somewhat scarce?
  3. Would you support allowing outside groups to conduct voter drives under an upgraded registration system if it would reduce the burden on election officials by easing the last-minute crush of applications and streamlining the process of verifying eligibility?
  4. Would you support expanding early voting if research suggested that voters wanted to cast ballots earlier in the process?

For witnesses who oppose the new laws:

  1. Would your position on photo ID change if evidence suggested that few voters actually lack such ID?
  2. Might voters see some benefit from obtaining an ID that can be used for purposes other than voting?
  3. Would outside groups conducting voter drives be willing to adhere to deadlines and other legal restrictions if the process of collecting and delivering registration applications were upgraded and streamlined?
  4. Are you willing to allow states to use data on early voting usage to determine when such polling locations will be open - even if it means shortening them again?

For all witnesses:

  1. Is there any empirical evidence that these policies will affect turnout? If so, what is it?
  2. How can your preferred solution(s) be accomplished in the current fiscal environment?
  3. Have you talked to election administrators about your solution(s) - and if so, what did they say? Have you changed any of your positions based on their feedback?

Those are the questions I'll be hoping to hear - join me at 2pm Eastern Thursday as I tune in to the webcast to see if those hopes were in vain.

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