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Voter ID battle in Mo. shifts to proof of citizenship

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Ian Urbina
New York Times News Service / May 12, 2008

NEW YORK - The battle over voting rights will expand this week when lawmakers in Missouri are expected to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow election officials to require proof of citizenship from anyone registering to vote.

The measure is a far more rigorous demand than the voter identification requirement recently upheld by the Supreme Court, in which Indiana voters had to prove their identity with a government-issued card.

Sponsors of the amendment - which would then require the approval of voters to go into effect, possibly in an August referendum - say it would prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process, but critics say it could disenfranchise tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it hard to prove their citizenship.

Specialists on election policies say the Missouri amendment represents the next logical step for those who have supported stronger voter ID requirements and the next battleground in how elections are conducted.

Similar measures are being considered in at least 19 state legislatures. The bills in Oklahoma, Kansas, South Carolina, and Florida have strong support, but only Missouri's has a chance of taking effect before the presidential election.

In Arizona, the only state with a similar requirement, more than 38,000 voter registration applications have been thrown out since the state adopted its measure, called Proposition 200, in 2004, according to the election data obtained through a lawsuit filed by voting rights advocates and provided to The New York Times. More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed.

Twenty-five states require some form of identification at the polls, and more may soon decide to do so now that the Supreme Court has upheld the practice. Democrats have criticized these requirements as implicitly designed to keep lower-income voters from the polls, and are likely to fight even more fiercely now that the requirements are expanding to include immigration status.

"Three forces are converging on the issue: security, immigration, and election verification," said Robert A. Pastor, codirector of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington.

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