WASHINGTON — The legend of Ritzy Mekler, the dog from St. Louis who allegedly registered to vote in the 2000 election, made a comeback Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
The reason was the same political bone that the two parties have been worrying about since that famous contested election eight years ago:
Does voter impersonation occur? If so, does requiring photo identification disenfranchise some voters, such as minorities, the elderly and the disabled, who might be less likely to have picture IDs?
"Vote fraud is alive and well in America," Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee. "The only question for us is, are we willing to stop it?"
Ritzy's voter registration card with her alleged address and Social Security number has long been a symbol to Bond for why the system needs better defenses.
His state is only one of three — Georgia and Indiana are the others — that have passed laws requiring that voters show government-issued photo IDs when they register to vote and when they vote. The U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Indiana law in January.
Asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee chairman, if voter impersonation was a "significant problem," several state election officials and experts either said that it wasn't or that they couldn't say for certain.
Feinstein, a California Democrat, said a photo ID did nothing to prevent several types of voter fraud, including voting in two different locales, vote buying, ballot tampering or falsifying absentee ballots.
Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said his state's photo ID law didn't appear to disenfranchise anyone. He noted that more than 2 million people voted in Georgia's recent presidential primary "and less than two-tenths of 1 percent did not possess a photo ID."
The law, said Robert Simms, a Georgia deputy secretary of state, "ensures the integrity of the process."
But several witnesses said that little evidence indicates that in-person vote fraud is rampant.
"Every year there are far more reports of UFO sightings than of in-person voter fraud at the polls," said Justin Levitt, a counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.