BOSTON (State House News Service) - Arguing enhanced efforts to ensure the identity of voters could disenfranchise some people, House Democrats on Thursday agreed to a further study of the issue, disappointing Republican lawmakers who believe their proposal will root out voter fraud.
The House voted 104-43 to send the issue to study, including a look at the costs of the proposal, during debate on a $212 million supplemental budget.
The vote followed a lengthy debate about voting rights and voter identification. Rep. Viriato deMacedo (R-Plymouth) introduced an amendment to the mid-year spending bill that would require voters to show identification at the polls – a proposal that failed Wednesday when the House passed a package of election reforms.
Democrats immediately offered a further amendment to send the idea to study – an oft-used tactic by House Speaker Robert DeLeo's leadership team that Republicans refer to as an "inoculator" because it prevents a vote on the underlying issue. DeMacedo has filed the bill for the past 12 years.
Rep. George Peterson warned that if House lawmakers did not vote on the idea now, its proponents would bring it up again during debate on every budget proposal and election bill, and eventually take it to the voters in a ballot question.
Opponents of requiring voters to show identification argued it is a way to disenfranchise lower-income, minority voters who might not be able to show identification easily. They argued there is no need for identification because there have not been any cases of voter fraud in the state that would require changes.
Rep. Benjamin Swan (D-Springfield) discussed his experiences working to register disenfranchised African-American voters in the South during the civil rights movement. He talked about going to Selma, Alabama and helping black people learn to take the tests given by southern poll workers and used to prevent them from voting.
"Here we are hanging up a budget bill trying to slide in voter identification – something that is so clearly to take away the rights of poor people, people of color," Swan said. "It makes my heart weep that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that there would be people in my home state that would want to take away those privileges," he added.
Rep. Paul Frost (R-Auburn) and other amendment supporters said Democrats were overblowing concerns about the costs of enhanced voter identification efforts. "This says if you show up to vote, you are who you say you are. That's it," Frost said.
Copyright State House News Service