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Flurry of photo ID laws tied to conservative ALEC group

Editor’s note: This report is part of a project on voting rights in America produced by the Carnegie-Knight News21 program.

A growing number of conservative Republican state legislators worked fervently during the past two years to enact laws requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls.

Lawmakers proposed 62 photo ID bills in 37 states in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, with multiple bills introduced in some states. Ten states have passed strict photo ID laws since 2008, though several may not be in effect in November because of legal challenges.

A News21 analysis found that more than half of the 62 bills were sponsored by members or conference attendees of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a Washington, D.C.-based, tax-exempt organization.

ALEC has nearly 2,000 state legislator members who pay $100 in dues every two years. Most of ALEC’s money comes from nonprofits and corporations — from AT&T to Bank of America to Chevron to eBay — which pay thousands of dollars in dues each year.

“I very rarely see a single issue taken up by as many states in such a short period of time as with voter ID,” said Jennie Bowser, senior election policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan organization that compiles information about state laws. “It’s been a pretty remarkable spread.”

A strict photo ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, requires voters to show photo ID or cast a provisional ballot, which is not counted unless the voter returns with an ID to the elections office within a few days. Less-strict laws allow voters without ID to sign an affidavit or have a poll worker vouch for their identity — no provisional ballot necessary.

Flurry of voter ID bills

 The flurry of bills introduced the last two years followed the 2010 midterm election when Republicans took control of state legislatures in Alabama, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina and Wisconsin. The same shift occurred in the 2004 election in Indiana and Georgia before those states became the first to pass strict voter ID laws.

ALEC members drafted a voter ID bill in 2009, a year when the 501(c) tax-exempt organization had $5.3 million in undisclosed corporate and nonprofit contributions, according to Internal Revenue Service documents.

At ALEC’s annual conferences, legislators, nonprofits and corporations work together without direct public input to develop bills that promote smaller government.

The group’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force at the 2009 Atlanta meeting approved the “Voter ID Act,” a photo ID bill modeled on Indiana and Georgia laws.

The task force convened in committees at the downtown Hyatt Regency Atlanta that July. Arkansas state Rep. Dan Greenberg, Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce and Indiana state Rep. Bill Ruppel (three Republicans now out of office) led drafting and discussion of the Voter ID Act.

Critics of photo voter ID laws, such as the Advancement Project, a Washington D.C.-based civil rights group, say voters without a driver’s license or the means (a birth certificate or Social Security card) to obtain free ID cards at a state motor vehicles office could be disenfranchised.

Click on the image to see an interactive graphic
Click on the image to see an interactive graphic detailing a group of state legislators who organized to work on economic issues and later evolved into a national body that is shaping election laws across the U.S.

They claim that ALEC pushed for photo ID laws because poor Americans without ID are likely to vote against conservative interests – a claim that authors of the Voter ID bills deny.

“By no means do I want to disenfranchise anyone,” said Colorado Republican state Rep. Libby Szabo, whose ID bills have failed the last two years in the state’s Democratic-controlled Senate.

“I can’t speak for each individual person,” Szabo said, “but it seems to me in today’s mobile society people have been able to manage transportation options for other necessary services.”

Szabo, an ALEC member, said she did not know ALEC had a model photo ID bill prior to submitting her legislation.

Growing interest in ALEC

The late Paul Weyrich, a political activist and co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, helped start ALEC in 1973. For many years, it steadily increased in state-level legislative members, developed annual conferences and had a relatively low national profile.

As ALEC grew, it began drafting and disseminating “model bills” that advocated free market economic ideas, such as eliminating capital gains taxes and weakening labor and consumer laws. Its website states, “Each year, close to 1,000 bills, based at least in part on ALEC Model Legislation, are introduced in the states. Of these, an average of 20 percent become law.”

This statement was difficult to substantiate until 2011 because ALEC’s model bills and membership lists were secret. After Ohio community organizer Aliyah Rahman helped start a spring 2011 protest against ALEC in Cincinnati, someone offered her 800 ALEC documents.

Rahman, who said she never learned the leaker’s identity, turned the documents over to the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based investigative reporting group focused on “exposing corporate spin and government propaganda,” according to its website. The group launched a website called ALEC Exposed in July 2011.

While that site drew attention to ALEC, activist and media scrutiny exploded because of the council’s support for model bills unrelated to economic issues.

In December 2011, ColorOfChange.org, a civil rights advocacy group founded after Hurricane Katrina, began asking corporations to stop funding ALEC because of the group’s role in pushing photo ID bills.

The seeds of a more serious challenge to ALEC’s funding were planted seven years ago. Florida Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, who in 2011 would sponsor the state’s controversial early voting and registration changes, sponsored a “stand your ground” law in 2005 that gave “immunity from criminal prosecution or civil action for using deadly force,” according to the bill’s summary.

It later became a National Rifle Association-supported ALEC model bill, and 24 other states now have similar laws, according to ProPublica.

The February 2012 killing of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., brought unprecedented attention to the law. Police did not arrest his shooter, George Zimmerman, for nearly two months. That sparked national protests and led to the dismissal of the city’s police chief. Zimmerman eventually was charged with second-degree murder in April and is free on $1 million bond.

In March, ColorOfChange.org began asking ALEC corporate funders why they gave money to a group that supported “stand your ground” and voter ID laws, two controversial non-economic issues.

More than 25 corporations, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Wal-Mart and Amazon, have announced they would stop funding ALEC.

“In a lot of cases, companies didn’t know the full range of what they were funding [through ALEC],” said Gabriel Rey-Goodlatte, ColorOfChange.org’s director of strategy. “With voter ID, it’s possible some companies believe it’s in their business interest to tilt the political playing field in one direction, but that would be a very cynical business strategy.

“It’s one that only works if it’s done in the darkness,” he said.

Both the Center for Media and Democracy and the open government advocacy group, Common Cause, have published internal ALEC documents, including model bills, membership lists and correspondence with elected officials.

Common Cause is challenging ALEC’s status as a tax-exempt nonprofit, claiming it lobbies legislators — specifically through “issue alerts.” Common Cause claims these emails from ALEC headquarters to state legislators “constitute direct evidence of ALEC’s lobbying because they are communications that are clearly targeted to influence legislation and disclose ALEC’s view on the legislation.”

Marcus Owens, a retired director of the IRS Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, represents a progressive church group in Ohio called Clergy Voices Oppose Illegal Church Entanglement, or Clergy VOICE. In June, Owens sent a 30-page letter to the IRS alleging that ALEC has engaged in lobbying and violated federal tax law.

But Baxley called it “a healthy thing for legislators to come together and have dialogue about bills.” He said that ALEC’s operations are similar to, though more conservative than, the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. “If they share ideas, I don’t start yelling conspiracy. It’s very inappropriate,” Baxley said.

Meagan Dorsch, public affairs director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, disputed Baxley’s characterization. “I’m not sure why we’re being compared — probably because we’re two of the larger legislative organizations,” Dorsch said. “The only people who vote on our policies are legislators. No corporate members are involved.”

Common Cause seeks IRS action

Common Cause staff counsel Nick Surgey said the documents his group sent to the IRS provide “a snapshot of what ALEC’s been doing” from 2010 to 2012, but the group has not come across any ALEC issue alerts related to the Voter ID Act.

ALEC, whose staff declined to discuss the group’s role in advocating for voter ID bills throughout a seven-month News21 investigation, will not disclose which corporations voted for the model voter ID bill nor whether issue alerts were sent to states considering such legislation.

“It is vitally important to protect the integrity of our voting system in the United States and such protection must come from the state level,” a July 2009 ALEC newsletter said. “That is why ALEC members are actively working on these issues.

“Election reform is both critical and complex, with multiple possible solutions for different states. Therefore, ALEC is uniquely positioned to raise awareness and provide effective solutions to ensure a legal, fair and open election system,” the newsletter continued.

Andy Jones (a former intern) and Jonathan Moody (still an ALEC staff member) wrote that article. Jones declined comment and Moody did not respond to an interview request.

Sean Parnell worked with state legislators Greenberg, Pearce and Ruppel when they drafted the ALEC model voter ID bill (Pearce did not respond to multiple interview requests). Parnell was then the president of the Center for Competitive Politics, an Alexandria, Va., organization that opposes campaign contribution limits.

“A number of organizations — on all sides — are a little too paranoid about talking,” said Parnell, who now runs a consulting firm, Impact Policy Management. “But you have to understand, as private entities, they have every right to say, ‘You know what? This is not something for public consumption.’ ”

“But I can tell you, ALEC private-sector members really didn’t care one way or the other when we discussed voter ID,” he said.

Ruppel said about 50 legislators and private-sector members voted on the bill, with a wide majority voting yes. “The private sector was a little quiet on it, but they were the ones who said people need IDs for everything these days. It’s common sense.”

News21 attempted to contact each of the 115 ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force members listed on a 2010 document that Common Cause published. The majority did not return phone calls. Former Michigan state Rep. Kim Meltzer, one of 108 Republicans on the task force, said she didn’t know voter ID was an ALEC initiative.

Georgia legislator Edward Lindsey said ALEC gradually developed “mission creep” and strayed from its economic-centered purpose. ALEC, facing intense media attention and corporate dropouts, disbanded the Public Safety and Elections Task Force in April.

“That should help them focus on core economic policies instead of on the machinations of democracy,” said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a group that opposes strict photo ID laws.

Legislator interest in voter ID

It is difficult to find exact matches between ALEC’s Voter ID Act and strict photo ID bills that appeared nationwide in the past two years. Much of the minutiae of the bills’ language differs, which Greenberg said is the objective.

“That’s the way ALEC works. We don’t give people an ironclad law to propose,” he said.

And because Greenberg’s bill was modeled on the Indiana and Georgia laws, many legislators interviewed for this story said their proposals were also based on those laws, not ALEC’s model bill.

Still, the Center for Media and Democracy’s Brendan Fischer said his group sees “pretty strong evidence” of the influence of the Voter ID Act: “We identified numerous instances where legislation introduced in state legislatures contained ‘ALEC DNA’ — meaning the state legislation and the ALEC models shared similar or identical language or provisions.”

State bill sponsors, including Republican state Rep. Cathrynn Brown of New Mexico, said their motivation did not come from ALEC, but from reports about the now-defunct voter registration group, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“We had groups like them going around doing registrations and discarding the ones they didn’t like,” Brown said.

ACORN, which endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008, became the target of conservative activist James O’Keefe’s deceptively edited videos that purported to show employees encouraging criminal behavior.

ACORN folded in 2010 after Congress and private donors pulled its funding. New Hampshire state Rep. Jordan Ulery blamed the group for increasing partisan fighting about election fraud.

“Are both parties guilty of games? Sadly, yes,” said Ulery, a former member of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force. Ulery, a Republican, supported his state’s voter ID bills, which have twice been vetoed by New Hampshire's Democratic governor.

“But only one political party in this past decade has actually been widely associated with an entity that was actively engaged in registration scams, trucking of voters and avoiding with the greatest possible energy vote-security measures,” Ulery said about Democrats.

Former ACORN director Bertha Lewis now runs a civil rights group in New York City called the Black Institute. She is still defiant toward ACORN’s critics.

“Our quality-control program was so good, and we were so strict, we would fire people on the spot,” said Lewis, who estimated that ACORN registered more than a million voters in 2007 and 2008 before Obama’s election. “I only regret that we weren’t as prepared, that we were naive when the critics started spreading lies.”

After ALEC’s 2009 Voter ID Act, ACORN’s 2010 collapse, and the 2010 midterm elections, 62 voter ID bills were introduced in state legislatures.

Legislators who would discuss how they wrote their bills all said they did not use ALEC’s Voter ID Act.

“I have a long history with this,” said state Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, Minnesota’s former secretary of state and a Republican who wrote Minnesota’s voter ID bill. “For people who say this is just ALEC’s bill is demeaning to me as a woman and a legislator — suggesting that we couldn’t write our own bill for Minnesota.”

Greenberg isn’t surprised lawmakers have dissociated themselves from the ALEC model, given the recent backlash.

“Some of that is legislative vanity that is not confined to the realm of ALEC,” and Greenberg says he “can’t imagine claiming that I don’t copy good ideas when I see them, but I think for some legislators, this would be a scary admission.”

About this project: “Who Can Vote?” was produced by News21, a national investigative reporting project involving college journalism students across the country and headquartered at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. News21 is funded by the Carnegie Corp. of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

 For the complete Voting Rights in America project, visit here.

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Comments (23)

The republicans fear their sky is falling

We spend a lot of time and money chasing those fiscal conservative republicans' unfounded fears. Now they want to set up a "free" Voter ID system when they can't even prove Minnesota has a voter ID problem. "Free", in the eyes of republicans, means someone else pays, just not them. We just had two recent recount elections that had bipartisan monitors looking for voter fraud and none was found. Voter ID would be an amendment to the state constitution that would only serve republicans. The constitution is there to serve all Minnesotans, not just republicans. The amendment should be titled "Don't Vote For This Amendment!

Even One Supressed Vote

Can change the outcome of an election.

Even one bogus vote

Can change the outcome of an election.

As can...

... thousands upon thousands of suppressed votes.

Kiffmeyer and Pawlenty

I've been watching Kiffmeyer pitch her voter ID legislation in town hall meetings and on the floor of the house for years. She's never been able to answer basic questions about her own legislation like how much is will cost, or what kind of ID will be a "valid" ID. When asked on the floor whether or not a un-registered voter with a valid ID would be given a regular or provisional ballot, she simply would not answer the question. She was also unable to explain how someone voting with an absentee ballot would meet the requirement, and I could go on. At first I thought she was just being dodgy, and refusing to answer. However after watching her carefully in several instances I've come to the conclusion that she really didn't fully understand the nature of her own legislation and actually couldn't answer the questions. Obviously this my personal judgment, so take it as seriously as you want to. However if I'm right, the most plausible explanation is that she didn't actually write the legislation.

No matter who's numbers you use, 80% of the illegal votes cast in MN in recent elections ( 8 out of 10 for instance the News21 report) were cast by felons who weren't supposed to vote. No one has produced a single instance of voter impersonation, ever. In 2009 the legislature passed an election law on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis ( I believe for instance there were only 6 "no" votes in the house) that would have eliminated 80% of the voter fraud in MN. This legislation would have given the Secretary of State's office access to several different databases such as the registered felon database. The Secretary of State's office could have cross checked that with voter rolls and registrations. This would have flagged all the felons who were voting or trying to vote at the polls and prevented all of those felon votes. This legislation would have cost almost nothing because it simply gave one government agency access to information held by other government agencies. Pawlenty vetoed it. Why veto normal and completely uncontroversial legislation that would have prevented 80% of our voter fraud in order to advance a controversial amendment that will cost more that $50 million and prevent zero voter fraud?

We know the impetus for the veto didn't come from MN Republicans because they voted overwhelmingly for the legislation. The veto only makes sense if put in the context of a nationwide coordinated effort to purge voter rolls and create new restrictions for voters, that's what photo ID laws do. The most likely candidate for a coordinator of such an effort is ALEC so the question is whether or not the Pawlenty veto was the product of ALEC advice?

The question then becomes: "Does ALEC really get to do all this stuff in secret?"

It is difficult at times to

Determine why Timmy does the things he does. His guiding principle though is self interest. Perhaps he determined that the majority of felons voting were republican votes which might help he reach 50% of the votes cast in his next state campaign.
Self interest is the same goal of ALEC and its members. Like trying to pass ridiculous laws forcing students to take online education classes so online education companies can make more money.
As for Kiffmeyer - just clueless.

Pawlenty's veto'd law

Sorry, I meant to include a link to the 2009 law I cited in my post. It's SF0660

https://www.revisor.mn.gov/revisor/pages/search_status/status_results.ph...

I'm sold

Outraged leftists have convinced me that ALEC is one of the most successful conservative organizations in the country. There really isn't any better form of advertisement than sincere testimonials by the opposition.

I'll cut 'em a check today.

Because "policy" has nothing to do with it

It's just about getting a rise out of people, isn't it?

Do you also leave flaming bags of ordure on people's doorsteps?

Granted, it's far easier to

Granted, it's far easier to send money to ALEC than it is to make a sound argument in favor of the voter ID amendment.

I hope you have a good job, Mr. Swift

You will have to cut a rather large check in order to cover the donations made in the past by companies like: Coke, McDonald’s, PepsiCo, Amazon.com, Kraft Foods, Yum! Brands, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Wal-Mart, Intuit, Wendy's, Mars, Reed Elsevier, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Procter & Gamble, Kaplan, Scantron Corporation.

They've all jumped ship in the last year upon discovering the hidden agenda of ALEC.

Do non-union workers in your shop get overtime? You've got a lot of work to do to cut a check big enough to cover these defectors.

They've all jumped ship in the last year....

Yeah, so far as you know!

So much for Republican integrity

So Jordan Ulery says:

“But only one political party in this past decade has actually been widely associated with an entity that was actively engaged in registration scams, trucking of voters and avoiding with the greatest possible energy vote-security measures,” Ulery said about Democrats.

No accusations of "trucking" voters have ever been lodged against ACORN by anyone. Rumors have been generated by Republican's but the only charges and convictions were for voter registration violations. Not a single illegal vote was ever cast as a result of ACORN violations. Micky Mouse might have registered, but he never actually cast a vote. Ulery is either lying when he makes these accusations or he doesn't know better. Either way his council is dubious at best.

As for who's frequently "associated" with whom, you might to think twice before going down that road.

Kiffmeyer...really?!

“For people who say this is just ALEC’s bill is demeaning to me as a woman and a legislator — suggesting that we couldn’t write our own bill for Minnesota.”

Give me an ever loving break. You're being accused of being an ALEC lackey because you are one, not because you're a woman. Way to pull the "girl card." Oh, and pulling the "politician card" gets you nowhere but backward.

There's a reason that the

There's a reason that the Republicans want to make it difficult for seniors to vote. They're the ones who remember most clearly what life was like before Reaganomics. They're the ones who recall that the War on Poverty actually did reduce poverty until local powers-that-were pressured their pet Congressional representatives and senators to gut those programs. Some older voters--fewer all the time, though--even have "before" and "after" memories of the New Deal.

When my late mother was in assisted living, she and her dinner table companions used to talk about how appalled they were by George W. Bush's policies and ask why the U.S. couldn't solve its unemployment program by bringing back the WPA and CCCs. When my late father was young, he couldn't find any kind of job at all, not even if he offered to work for free for two weeks to prove himself. The CCCs gave him an opportunity that was available nowhere else.

If the Republicans are to be successful in their "privatize everything" mania, they have to suppress the votes of people who remember when government programs were successful.

oh well

"President Barack Obama’s plans for healthcare are far more scary for seniors than those proposed by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a new poll in Florida shows.

More than half — 54 percent — of those over 65 say Obamacare scares them more than Ryan’s plan, the poll from Rasmussen Reports shows. Only one in three believe the Ryan plan is more scary."

Yep, they're scared someone's

Yep, they're scared someone's going to take away their government-provided health care. Aside from this fact that they're scared because of the intentional spreading of misinformation by the right wing, it's fairly interesting how omitted conservatives are at defending government health care for seniors, who love it, at the same time as they do everything in their power at preventing the rest of us from getting it.

And BTW....

Since 80% of Minnesotan's are in favor of voter ID, it seems that ALEC is firmly in the mainstream while anti- voter ID leftists are relegated to the out of touch fringe....as it should be.

It's easy to rig poll questions to get the answer you want

How was the polling question stated? "Do you favor a voter ID law to prevent all the fraudulent votes cast in Minnesota by millions of illegal immigrants, felons, and people who go from precinct to precinct so they can vote twice?" Slant it like that, and you'd probably get a reflexive "yes" from a lot of people, until they stopped and realize that there aren't "millions" of illegal immigrants and felons in Minnesota.

I bet that the percentage of Minnesotans in favor of Voter ID would drop quite a bit if they were reminded that there is now no single ID that proves 1) citizenship, 2) current address, and 3) lack of felony convictions, and that giving every adult citizen in Minnesota such an ID would require the establishment of a whole new state bureaucracy that would cost...how much?

So if the Republicans are so concerned about identifying legal voters, why did Pawlenty veto the bipartisan bill that would have created a database linked to existing databases that already contain proof of citizenship, address, and criminal record? That would have been much cheaper and more efficient, but no, it wasn't what ALEC wanted, because it would have still let too many of the "wrong" kind of citizens vote.

Papspew, Mr. Swift?

You are very fond of using that term when referring to the comments of others.

I call papspew on you....

Give us a reference to your claim that: "80% of Minnesotan's are in favor of voter ID."

Were they asked whether they approved of the end of same day registration, Mr. Swift? For that and many other unspecified details trouble the proposed amendment. The ignorance of Ms. Kiffmeyer when asked for details about the so-called Voter Id amendment was pathetic. The weaseling before the Minnesota Supreme Court was obvious.

Why don't we have a poll about how many Minnesotans are in favor of the end of same day registration?

Yes papspew, Mr. Gleason.

"Minnesota Poll: Big show of support for voter photo ID"

"While 80 percent of respondents are in favor, parties remain split."
http://www.startribune.com/politics/statelocal/121678219.html?refer=y

When everyone votes Republicans lose.

Voter photo ID is about voter intimidation and suppression. As Paul Weyrich readily admitted "I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down." (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GBAsFwPglw)

Polls and lies

The Republican have along history of turning personal opinions into divisive and toxic debates, and it's always a bait n switch. We were told Republicans were gonna focus like a laser on the economy and they did was build a stadium and put two divisive amendments on the ballot.

They do this by looking at polls where say 80% of those polled respond in a certain way, and then claiming that gives them the authority to promote bigotry and oppression. This strategy will eventually backfire because people eventually realize that there's a difference between making something law, and having a personal opinion. A majority of people may well say they think marriage should be between a man and a woman, but when asked if any other kinds of marriage should be prohibited by the constitution you get a very different answer. Likewise with voter ID, this amendment is a bait n switch. Sure if you ask people if they think a photo ID of some kind should be required to vote a lot of people will say "yes". Most people assume a much broader definition of valid ID than the Republicans actually try to put into law. And when you ask if Election Day registration should be replaced with provisional ballots, and point out that a passports, military ID's, School IDs, and Drivers Licenses from other states won't be considered valid, support dramatically drops.

Right now some polls show that the marriage amendment will actually fail to pass, and the support for the photo ID amendment was down to 58% a couple months ago.

These photo ID initiatives are actually back-door voter purges that set up obstacles to voting. Purging voter rolls has been a huge agenda for Republicans for decades now, they've been fighting the federal government over this for years in Florida. That's NOT what most people think photo ID requirement are supposed to be about. I predict that after we've had an election with these dogs people will be angry and they'll blame the Republicans. Many of these restrictions will either be repealed or dramatically weakened.

It's funny, these right wingers always manage to convince themselves that they're in the majority somehow. The "moral" majority, the "silent" majority, etc. etc. etc. Of course these area always delusions. Nevertheless these guys will take their electoral victories, no matter how narrow, and parlay them via mental gymnastics into a "mandate" of some kind. Been watching this for decades now.