WASHINGTON - A measure requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls is expected to pass the House today, the latest example of the push toward stricter scrutiny of citizenship status in the U.S.
The legislation is one of a series of bills crafted by House Republican leaders who want to strengthen border security and crack down on illegal immigration. It is touted by its sponsor, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., as a safeguard against voter fraud.
The proposed Federal Election Integrity Act follows a spate of state-level laws that mandate photo ID or proof of citizenship to vote.
Democrats say the move to impose a national photo ID requirement is part of a larger Republican effort to discourage participation by low-income and minority voters likely to back Democratic candidates, a charge GOP lawmakers strongly deny.
The Senate is not likely to take up the measure this session, but House GOP lawmakers say they expect to make the issue a congressional priority next year.
"It's not going to go into oblivion," said Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Administration Committee that produced the bill.
He defended the need for tighter election laws and noted that countries such as Canada, Germany and Britain require photo ID to vote.
"There is, I believe, increasing fraud in voting in the U.S.," Ehlers said.
The bill would require Americans to show a government-issued photo ID to take part in federal elections starting in November 2008, the next presidential election. By 2010, voters would have to present a photo ID that can be obtained only by providing proof of citizenship.
Six states have passed laws this year tightening identification requirements at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Of the 24 states that ask voters to bring some form of identification on election day, seven, including Georgia, have passed legislation requiring photo IDs.
In making their case for a national law, Republican leaders cite a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that showed 81 percent of those surveyed support a photo ID requirement at the polls.
Several civil rights groups join Democrats in opposing the bill. Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Administration panel, said there is little evidence to show that voter fraud is a serious problem.
A study by the League of Women Voters examined all Ohio elections between 2002 to 2004 and found that 0.00004 percent of those who went to the polls were ineligible to do so. And only 86 people have been convicted of federal crimes related to election fraud out of 196,139,871 ballots cast nationwide since October 2002, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.