MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We are continuing our discussion about voter ID laws with a look at a new proposal that's now before Congress. The America Votes Act of 2012 would allow voters who do not have identification required by their state's voter ID laws to sign an affidavit at the polls to vouch for their identity.
Joining us now is Congressman Rick Larsen. He is a Democrat from Washington State. He represents the Second District. He's one of the co-sponsors of the bill and we caught up with him as he is traveling. Congressman, welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.
REPRESENTATIVE RICK LARSEN: It's my pleasure. Thank you.
MARTIN: So what would the bill do?
LARSEN: Well, the bill is a very simple solution to these voter ID laws. It would allow a voter to sign an affidavit vouching they are who they are if they come to the polls and do not have a voter ID that is required by their state. It also, then, when they vouch for themselves, that ballot would count as a standard ballot, not a provisional ballot. They don't have to go through another hoop to have that ballot counted.
They can sign the affidavit saying they are who they are and that ballot will count. Very similar to what we do in Washington State, where we have an all- mail-in ballot system. You sign your ballot. It's an affidavit and your ballot counts.
MARTIN: The bill would override laws in, what is it, almost three dozen states now that require voters to show some form of identification and in five states a number of them are being contested in court - Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kansas. What would you say to voters in those states who say, you know, this is our state responsibility and that you don't have the right to come in and override a decision that our voters have made?
LARSEN: Well, you know, that's an argument that states used in the past as well to suppress voting. I think we have moved beyond that argument in this country. A citizen of the United States who is eligible to vote and registered to vote should not have hurdles put before them to exercise their right to vote. And what this does - what this bill says is, if you sign an affidavit vouching for who you are, it also then combines high penalties if you are not who you say you are, just like we do in Washington state. We should not be disenfranchising voters with voter ID laws, with voter suppression laws.
MARTIN: You've used the word several times, voter suppression laws. Is it your view that the intention here is to keep people from voting? And, if so, which people? And what's your evidence for that?
LARSEN: Well, the Grand Center for Justice has estimated that about one in six or so African-American voters don't have the kind of ID that these voter suppression laws want. One in four Hispanic voters don't have it and one in 10 eligible - of all eligible voters don't have these - don't have the kind of ID that they would keep and what's really interesting is that there have only been 10 alleged in person voter fraud incidents in the last several years. Only 10. There have been 36 shark attacks in the United States. There have been 304 cases of exploding toilets that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has (unintelligible) having to recall.
Here's my point. If we're going to start making decisions based on how often things happen, then there are clearly other things happening much less so than (unintelligible) voter fraud in this country that we can address.
MARTIN: Finally, though, congressman, before we let you go - and, as I mentioned, we caught up with you while you're traveling - this bill was introduced with all democratic co-sponsors. The number of the states that have advanced these voter ID laws, with one exception being Rhode Island, have generally been advanced with, you know, Republican governors or Republican state legislatures. You have no Republican co-sponsors, so what is the prospect for this bill actually becoming law? It would seem to be minimal.
LARSEN: We have to start somewhere. We have to - we have to send a message to folks who want to suppress the vote that we're not going to let that happen. We're not going to stand idly by as Democrats or as a country and let that happen. It may take a while for a law - a bill like this to become law, eventually, but that's been the history of this country when it comes to voting rights. It takes a while to push back on voter suppression and we've got to start somewhere.
MARTIN: Rick Larsen represents the second congressional district of Washington state. As you can hear, we caught up with him by phone while he is traveling. Thank you so much for joining us.
LARSEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.