The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
July 28, 2011

Colbert Report Investigates Voting Rights

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Voter ID Laws
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As the country gears up for the 2012 presidential election, an episode on last week’s Colbert Report took aim at state efforts to safeguard against alleged “voter fraud.”  Many states, including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin have passed or are considering legislation that would require voters to produce government-issued photo IDs at the polls.  These bills create new hurdles to the ballot box that are especially high for low-income, minority, college-age, and elderly voters, who may not have the time or resources to obtain a qualifying ID.  These voter ID bills, as Stephen Colbert demonstrates, are a solution in search of a problem and will only serve to disenfranchise eligible voters.

Colbert wryly notes that his beloved home state of South Carolina has some of the toughest voter ID laws, requiring a driver’s license, military ID, or passport to vote.  According to the state election commission, this disenfranchises 178,000 state citizens.  With barely half of Americans voting, these roadblocks are likely to discourage many more.  In his signature tongue-in-cheek tone, Colbert theorized that these laws are clearly designed to “keep the wrong people from voting,” citing opinions that “college students do not have the life experience to vote” and that property owners and upper-class voters have a higher stake in election results than poor people.  And as Colbert persuasively demonstrates, the specifics of voter fraud raised to justify these laws do not hold up to scrutiny: in Ohio, a swing state in the last few elections, a “statewide survey of votes cast in 2002 and 2004, found that out of 9,078,728 votes, there were four instances of fraud… forty-four one millionths of one percent.”

Pro bono lawyers have roles to play at all levels of the election protection and reform processes on Election Day and year-round.  To learn more about election-related pro bono opportunities, listen to our “Pro Bono and Elections” webinar, on demand here, and/or email Mary Baroch to request a copy of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project publication “Facing the Challenges of Citizenship: Election-Related Pro Bono Opportunities.” Both are free of charge to Law Firm Project Member firms.

Two especially useful resources protecting voting rights are the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Watch the Colbert Report clip and let us know what you think.

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