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Floor Statement of Senator Barack Obama on a Photo ID to Vote

Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me just echo Senator Kennedy's strong opposition to the amendment that is offered by the Senator from Kentucky.

There is no more fundamental right accorded to United States citizens by the Constitution than the right to vote. The unimpeded exercise of this right is essential to the functioning of our democracy. Unfortunately, history has not been kind to certain citizens in protecting their ability to exercise this right.

For a large part of our nation's history, racial minorities have been prevented from voting because of barriers such as literacy tests, poll taxes and property requirements. We've come a long way. That was clear a few weeks ago when Democrats and Republicans, members of the Senate and the House stood on the Capitol steps to announce the introduction of a bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. That rare and refreshing display of bipartisanship reflects our collective belief that more needs to be done to remove barriers to voting.

Right now, the Senate is finishing a historic debate about immigration reform. It's been a difficult discussion, occasionally contentious. It's required bipartisan cooperation. After several weeks and many, many amendments, we're less than an hour away from voting for cloture. Considering our progress and the delicate balance we're trying to maintain, this amendment could not come at a worse time.

Let's be clear. This is a national voter ID law. This is a national voter ID law that breaks the careful compromise struck by a 50-50 Senate four years ago. It would be the most restrictive voter ID ever enacted, one that could quite literally result in millions of disenfranchised voters and utter chaos at the state level.

Now, I recognize there's a certain simplistic appeal to this amendment. Why shouldn't we require people to have a voter ID card when they vote? Don't we want to make sure voters are who they claim to be? And shouldn't we make sure non-citizens are casting ballots to change the outcome of elections?

There are two problems with the argument: number one, there's been no showing that there's any significant problem with voter fraud in the 50 states. There certainly is no showing that non-citizens are rushing to try to vote: this is a solution in search of a problem.

The second problem is that historically disenfranchised groups - minorities, the poor, the elderly and the disabled - are most affected by photo ID laws. Let me give you a few statistics, overall 12% of voting age American do not have a driver's license, most of whom are minority, new U.S. citizens, the indigent, the elderly or the disabled. AARP reports that 3.6 million disabled Americans have no driver's license. A recent study in Wisconsin this year found that white adults were twice as likely to have driver's licenses as African Americans over 18. In Louisiana, African Americans are four to five times less likely to have photo IDs than white residents.

Now, why won't poor people be able to get photo IDs or Real IDs? It's simple. Because they cost money. You need a birth certificate, passport or proof naturalization and that can cost up to $85. Then you need to go to the state office to apply for a card. That requires time off work, possibly a long trip on public transportation assuming there's an office near you. Imagine if you only vote once ever two or four years, it's not very likely you'll take time off work, take a bus to pay $85 just so you can vote. That is not something that most folks are going to be able to do.

The fact of the matter, Mr. President, is that this is an idea that has been batted around not with respect to immigration but with respect to generally attempting to restrict the approach for people voting throughout the country. This is not the time to do it.

The Carter-Baker commission in 2002-2004 said fraudulent votes make up .000003% of the votes cast. That's a lot of zeros. Let me say it a different way. Out of almost 200 million votes that were cast during these elections, 52 were fraudulent. To put that into some context, you are statistically more likely to get killed by lightning than to find a fraudulent vote in a federal election.

Mr. President, this is not the appropriate time to be debating this kind of amendment. We've got a lot of serious issues with respect to immigration. I would ask that all my colleagues reject the amendment so we can move on to the important business at hand. Thank you, Mr. President.