Skip Navigation

Voting Rights Groups Respond to Carter-Baker Commission Report on Election Reform

For Imme­di­ate Release
Monday, Septem­ber 19, 2005

Contact Inform­a­tion:
Timothy Rusch, Demos, 212 389–1407
Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736

Voting Rights Groups Respond to Carter-Baker Commis­sion Report on Elec­tion Reform
Flawed Commis­sion Proced­ures Yield Flawed Recom­mend­a­tions; Some Would Disfran­chise Vast Numbers of Eligible Voters

Wash­ing­ton, DC A grow­ing coali­tion of voting rights organ­iz­a­tions issued the follow­ing state­ment today criti­ciz­ing the deeply flawed delib­er­at­ive process of the Carter-Baker Commis­sion on Federal Elec­tion Reform—a process culmin­at­ing in a new report with some deeply flawed recom­mend­a­tions. The Commis­sion was estab­lished in March of 2005 with the goal of increas­ing voter access and restor­ing Amer­icas confid­ence in the elect­oral process, and was co-chaired by former Pres­id­ent Jimmy Carter and former Secret­ary of State James Baker III.

After just two limited hear­ings and no call for public comment, the Carter-Baker Commis­sion on Federal Elec­tion Reform has issued a new report contain­ing many deeply flawed recom­mend­a­tions. The substant­ive short­com­ings of these recom­mend­a­tions are examined at length in a rebut­tal avail­able shortly at www.carter­ and www.carter­baker­dis­ In general, we are disap­poin­ted by the path that the Commis­sion has chosen­one char­ac­ter­ized by a lack of trans­par­ency and a reluct­ance to conduct thor­ough research or consult with a full range of recog­nized experts. Unfor­tu­nately, this Commis­sion failed to live up to the trans­par­ent and effect­ive process of its prede­cessor, the 2001 Carter-Ford Commis­sion on Federal Elec­tion Reform. Owing to its vast flaws, this Commis­sions recom­mend­a­tions suffer by compar­ison.

Unlike its prede­cessor, this Commis­sion gave little atten­tion to detail. There were no separ­ate task forces devoted to any partic­u­lar aspects of our elec­tion system. There was little attempt to gather rigor­ous empir­ical data to support any conclu­sions. The result is a report based on anec­dote and suppos­i­tion, rather than rigor­ous analysis of real-world facts.

Unfor­tu­nately, this process yiel­ded an incom­plete report of poor qual­ity. Some of the Commis­sions recom­mend­a­tion­snot­ably, the call for non-partisan elec­tion admin­is­tra­tion, improved poll-worker train­ing and more effect­ive enforce­ment of the Amer­ic­ans with Disab­il­it­ies Actare construct­ive and will limit disfran­chise­ment. Several of its recom­mend­a­tions, however, will have a chilling effect on voter parti­cip­a­tion and access. These should not be imple­men­ted under any circum­stance.

For example, the Commis­sions Report recom­mends a draconian govern­ment-issued photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion require­ment as a prerequis­ite to voting, without any cred­ible assess­ment of the need for such a meas­ure and without adequate acknow­ledg­ment of the burden it will impose. We discuss in detail the short­com­ings of this proposal at http://www.carter­baker­dis­ The Commis­sion recom­mends that begin­ning in 2010, all voters be required to present poll work­ers with a REAL ID card or its equi­val­ent in order to vote. REAL ID is a contro­ver­sial new, Congres­sion­ally-mandated drivers license that was passed into law without debate and delib­er­a­tion as an attach­ment to an omni­bus milit­ary spend­ing bill in May 2005. REAL ID puts unpre­ced­en­ted burdens on states in issu­ing drivers licenses to verify multiple docu­ments with their issu­ing agency. Because of the laws require­ments many citizens will not be able to obtain this iden­ti­fic­a­tion.

The exclu­sion­ary effects of the REAL ID proposal are most vividly illus­trated by those affected by Hurricane Katrina. More than one-fifth of New Orleans resid­ents had no access to an auto­mobile, and thus are among those least likely to have a drivers license. The hundreds of thou­sands of displaced citizens will find it diffi­cult, if not impossible, to secure the iden­tity papers they left behind or to obtain new records from govern­ment offices and hospit­als that have been destroyed. These Amer­ic­ans, and many like them across our nation­like those with disab­il­it­ies, the elderly, people of color, students and the poor­would be effect­ively barred from voting under the Commis­sions proposal.

The impact of REAL ID voting cards on Louisi­anans would be mirrored around the coun­try. For instance, nearly four million Amer­ic­ans living with disab­il­it­ies currently do not have a driver’s license or other form of state-issued photo ID. In Geor­gia it is estim­ated that 36 percent of resid­ents 75 or older do not possess a driver’s license. And a June 2005 study by the Univer­sity of Wiscon­sin found that less than half of Milwau­kee Countys African Amer­ican and Latino adults had a valid drivers license. Yet nowhere in the Commis­sions Report are these enorm­ous costs care­fully balanced against the minimal bene­fits such a REAL ID voting card would provide.

The empir­ical and analyt­ical backup for several other recom­mend­a­tions is simil­arly shoddy. For example, the Report’s recom­mend­a­tions on felony re-enfran­chise­ment are not only out of step with public opin­ion, but also funda­ment­ally unwork­able. The Commis­sions recom­mend­a­tionto perman­ently disfran­chise some persons convicted of a felony, and to allow restor­a­tion of the fran­chise to others only once they have fully served a complete sentenceis a step back­ward from the policy of 37 states. It also fails to acknow­ledge that a clear major­ity of Amer­ic­ans favor restor­a­tion of voting rights once a person with a crim­inal convic­tion reenters soci­ety as a taxpay­ing citizen. The Commis­sions recom­mend­a­tion also leaves in place the patch­work system of restor­a­tion that creates poten­tial for confu­sion, as in Wash­ing­ton State, and manip­u­la­tion, as in Flor­ida.

Amer­ica deserved a blue-ribbon Elec­tion Commis­sion with a sound meth­od­o­logy that relied on research and expert analysis rather than alleg­a­tion and hyper­bole. Revers­ing voting rights and a national trend toward fair­ness and full parti­cip­a­tion in demo­cracy is not a bell­wether of progress. We urge Congress to consider the real prob­lems that plague elec­tions rather than the phantoms high­lighted by the Commis­sion.

For more inform­a­tion about the Carter-Baker Commis­sion report, visit www.carter­, or visit www.carter­baker­dis­ to read dissent­ing comment­ary by Commis­sioner Spen­cer Over­ton.

Members of the press: for more inform­a­tion, or to sched­ule an inter­view with an expert from a Network member organ­iz­a­tion, please contact: Timothy Rusch, 212 389–1407 or Natalia Kennedy, 212 998–6736..

Spokespeople include:
Jonah Gold­man, Lawyers Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law, 202 662–8321
Wendy Weiser, Justin Levitt; Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 212 998–6130
Miles Rapo­port, Steven Carb; Dmos: A Network for Ideas & Action, 212 389–1400

Endors­ing Organ­iz­a­tions (List in Form­a­tion):
Advance­ment Project
Apple­seed Found­a­tion
Asian Amer­ican Legal Defense and Educa­tion Fund
Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law
Citizen Action of NY
Dmos: A Network for Ideas & Action
Insti­tute for Puerto Rican Policy
Lawyers Commit­tee for Civil Rights Under Law
National Asian Pacific Amer­ican Legal Consor­tium
National Disab­il­ity Rights Network
National Voting Rights Insti­tute
People for the Amer­ican Way Found­a­tion
Project Vote
Service Employ­ees Inter­na­tional Union

The Bren­nan Center for Justice unites thinkers and advoc­ates in pursuit of a vision of inclus­ive and effect­ive demo­cracy.