Legislation and Policy Brief Symposium Explores Changes at the Ballot Box

By Ashley Thomas

On Monday, March 5th, the Legislation and Policy Brief hosted a symposium discussing a range of election administration issues, including voter photo identification laws, election modernization, ballot access, and their potential effect on the electorate. Entitled “Election Administration and the 2012 Campaign,” the symposium was moderated by Professor Bill Yeomans, Fellow in Law and Government, and had over 70 students, practitioners, and scholars in attendance. The day began with a lunch keynote address by Matthew Colangelo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, who explained the Department’s role in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the National Voter Registration Act, and how the Department determines whether voting changes pass muster under the section 5 preclearance requirement of the VRA.

Following the keynote address, panelists engaged in a lively debate about the merits and drawbacks of Voter ID laws. Curtis Gans of the Center for the Study of the American Electorate spoke about the key issues with voter ID: cost and availability. Mr. Gans stated that the documents to obtain an ID and the ID itself must be free. He noted that a free government-provided biometric photo ID is worth exploring and is currently successful in Mexico and other countries that previously suffered from massive voter fraud. Rob Richie of FairVote emphasized the consequences of low voter turnout and WCL Professor Jamin Raskin discussed burdensome ballot access rules and our ad hoc series of Constitutional amendments that work to guarantee the right to vote.

John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center asserted that the voter ID debate is exaggerated on both sides, from those touting rampant voter fraud to others citing that voter ID laws will have a huge discriminatory impact. Laura Murphy of the ACLU advocated against voter ID laws and referred to evidence showing the laws’ negative effect on the voter franchise. Richael Faithful of the Advancement Project stated that the hurdles to obtain an approved form of identification are high for certain groups and Robert Pastor of the Center for Democracy and Election Management argued that our country’s election administration system is in need of reform, noted that the amount of money spent on negative advertising is alarming, and also advocated for a universal form of ID.

The half-day event closed with questions from the audience and a networking reception. For full coverage of the panel, you may view the webcast on this website http://media.wcl.american.edu/Mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=e3efa9cf-dfe5-411e-b326-1d119146ec45

For a full listing of panelists, view the agenda here.

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