The Constitution and Voting Rights

Last Thursday the Vanderbilt community celebrated the 225th anniversary of the birth of the Constitution with a program featuring Dr. Carrie Russell, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and her presentation entitled, “We the People:  American Citizenship and Voter Identification Law.

Introduced by Provost McCarty who listed her impressive credentials ranging from her law degree from the University of Tennessee to her Ph.D. in Political Science from Vanderbilt University, Carrie Russell began her program with a tribute to the Constitution, calling it “a remarkable document…an inflexible document.”

Dr. Russell explained that the body of the Constitution does not contain strict requirements for voting rights, and therefore voter identification legislation is defined differently in all 50 states. Qualifications for voting range from state to state, but Dr. Russell shows that most voter identification legislation can be categorized depending on their strictness or leniency.

While some states with “strict photo ID laws” like Arizona, Georgia, and now Tennessee require that citizens present a valid photo ID in order to vote or cast a provisional vote without a photo ID (with the condition that voters show a photo ID after submitting their ballot to state administration officials), other states, like Florida and New Hampshire with “photo ID laws” require election voters to a present an ID or sign an affidavit swearing that “they are who they are.”

The controversy with such laws propels questions about potential discrimination – how can a citizen without the means to obtain a proper ID vote? On the other hand, what effect does fraudulent voting have on an election and can voter identification legislation successful preserve voter confidence?

Considering evidence shows that impersonation at voting booths in one of the lowest causes of voter fraud, attendees of the Constitution Day program questioned what impact, if any, could result from voter identification legislation.

Since strict voter identification laws are fairly new, Dr. Russell explains that the minimal research that evaluates the effects of such legislation has reached contrasting, or non-conclusive results. In appears that the effects will be more noticeable after the upcoming 2012 Presidential Election, when a full evaluation can be conducted.

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