Voter ID Under Fire At Progressive Conference; Obama Calls Restrictions A ‘Big Mistake’

A few dozen progressives sat in a room in the Washington Hilton on Monday during the Take Back the American Dream Conference discussing how restrictive voter ID laws would affect the 2012 election.

“The groups of voters that are going to be most impacted, what do you all think?” asked moderator Megan Donovan. “Who does this affect primarily?”

“College students!” someone said. “Minority groups!” said another. “Elderly voters!” chimed in one person. “Disabled voters!” said one woman.

“Democrats!” came a voice from the back of the room. The audience burst into laughter.Progressive groups are taking the threat posed by new voting laws passed by mostly Republican legislatures across the country this year pretty seriously, and with good cause. A study put out this week by the Brennan Center claimed that up to five million voters could be kept from the polls due to the laws.

Plenty of people blame the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for pushing the laws around the country. One attendee said the laws had “ALEC DNA” and the panel said there was little doubt that conservative groups were behind the legislative push.

“I’m sure that they’re meeting right now and trying to figure out what can we do to further disenfranchise people,” Deven Anderson of Black Youth Vote! said.

Panelists also conceded that the pro-voter ID narrative had been dominating the discussion of the issue.

“We need to change the current narrative and the current debate, because it’s not conducive to our issues, which are expanding access to the ballot box,” said Eric Marshall of the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights.

“The way the debate was framed was ‘election fraud is rampant’ and ‘these are simple, common-sense requirements that everyone has.’ Those are simple messages that really resonate with the general public that isn’t up on issues,” Marshall said. “They don’t realize that it’s not about ID, everyone for the most part does have ID, but it’s a very type of ID that has very certain requirements on it that limits it.”

Such concerns were recently expressed by President Barack Obama in an interview with a radio host last week.

“I will say that my big priority is making sure that as many people are participating in our democracy as possible,” Obama said. “Some of these moves in some of the other states that we’ve seen try to make it tougher to vote, restricting ballot access, making it hard on seniors, making it hard on young people.

“I think that’s a big mistake, and I have made sure that our Justice Department is taking a look at what’s being done across the country to ensure that people aren’t being denied access to the franchise,” Obama said.