WASHINGTON – As lawmakers argue about overhauling the nation's voting systems, a pattern has emerged: Republicans focus on voter fraud and what they see as lax registration laws. Democrats point to allegations of people denied their right to vote.
Nowhere were the opposing views more obvious than at a hearing Thursday before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that focused on problems St. Louis experienced in the November elections.
Sen. Christopher Bond, a Republican, and Rep. William Lacy Clay, a Democrat, both represent Missouri but had starkly different views on problems that occurred in St. Louis. g city election officials of obstructing black voters' access to the polls.
"What we have seen in St. Louis these past months has been nothing short of astonishing -- to the degree that we have become a national laughing stock," Bond said. "We've had dead people registered and yes, even a dog."
"It is painfully clear that our voter registration system is broken and desperately needs repairing," Bond said.
Many Republicans complain that the National Voter Registration Act passed in 1993 to make it easier for people to register has led to widespread abuse of the system. Bond has called for a federal probe to look into GOP vote-fraud charges and introduced legislation to overhaul voter registration laws.
But Clay, testifying after Bond, said, "I'm very disappointed with the mischaracterization of the process in the city of St. Louis. I was never taught you had to cheat to win an election."
Clay and other Democrats have complained that minority voters across the country were harassed and prevented from voting.
Lawmakers Thursday brought up the possibility of requiring photo identification for all voters as well as provisional voting where a person could vote but it would not be counted until their registration was verified. Clay warned lawmakers to move carefully on requiring photo identification because many poor people don't have it.
"I would ask the committee to proceed with caution about infringing on the voting rights of any American," he said.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Governmental Studies, told the panel that lawmakers must find a way to balance the goals of increasing voter participation with maintaining the integrity of the system.
"To the extent that we keep expanding the participation rate and make it easier and easier for people to register and vote, we almost certainly increase the chances for voter fraud," Sabato said.
He added, "To move completely in the direction of one value as opposed to the other is foolhardy. We must achieve a balance between these two important democratic values. Currently, we do not have a good balance."