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Voter ID Backer, Opponent Agree On One Point: Voter Rolls Are A Mess

There are few people further apart on the issue of new voter photo ID requirements than Laura Murphy and Hans von Spakovsky.

She's director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. He's with the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush.

So when the two went head-to-head Thursday on the issue at the National Press Club in Washington DC, there were a few sparks.

Murphy called the mostly Republican-backed laws "nothing short of a crass power grab" by those who want to keep certain people from the polls. Her group is challenging several laws in court, arguing that they discriminate against minorities, students and others, who are less likely to have the required ID. They also tend to vote Democratic.

Von Spakovsky, who's been a leader in pushing for such laws, says they're needed to help prevent voter fraud. He noted that some of the plaintiffs in the ACLU case in Wisconsin have driver's licenses from other states, adding: "They could be attempting to vote twice and perhaps the ACLU wants them to vote twice."

For the most part, though, the debate was civil and a replay of arguments that have been heard in state legislatures across the country.

It also showed once again that both sides suffer from a lack of data.

Murphy used an oft-cited statistic that more than 21 million voting-age Americans don't have government-issued photo ID. But as von Spakovsky noted, past challenges to these laws have failed in part because opponents have had a difficult time producing actual voters who've been harmed.

Murphy says her group and others are actively gathering some "very compelling stories" right now of legitimate voters who are unable to get the required photo ID in states such as Missouri, Wisconsin and Arizona.

And, indeed, there have been numerous stories of voters — especially poor and elderly ones — who lack the documents they need to get a photo ID, such as a birth certificate.

Von Spakovsky cited, as he has in the past, a number of cases of voter fraud over the years, although most analysts have found no evidence that such fraud is widespread.

When asked how a photo ID requirement would stop someone determined to commit fraud, he responded: "No one says that photo ID is a perfect solution to this kind of security problem." But, he said, along with other security measures already in place at the polls, it would make it much tougher for anyone to commit voter fraud.

Murphy countered that since fraud is so rare, "we have to ask ourselves whether the burden of going after this tiny group of people is worth the burdens placed on legitimate eligible voters." Especially she said, when voting is such a fundamental right.

The two did agree on one thing — that voter registration rolls are a mess that needs to be cleaned up. They both cited a Pew Center on the States report last week that there are more than 2 million dead people registered to vote, and about 24 million registrations that are invalid or inaccurate.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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