Analysis: States debate voter ID issues

By PHIL MAGERS, United Press International  |  April 1, 2005 at 6:42 PM
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The Georgia Legislature has passed a tough bill requiring voters to present photo identification before they cast a ballot and at least two other states are considering similar legislation designed to tighten election laws.

Opponents of the photo ID in Georgia are asking Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue to veto the measure, saying the provision discriminates against minorities, the poor and elderly. Legislation is Indiana and Wisconsin is being challenged on many of the same grounds.

The Georgia Legislature, under the control of Republicans for the first time in more than 100 years, passed the most restrictive voter identification requirements in the nation, according to opponents, who say the GOP is trying to suppress the minority vote.

Republicans argue they are trying to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of the election process. Election reform has on the agenda of most states legislatures since the Florida fiasco in the 2000 presidential race.

Nearly 60 bills were introduced in legislatures this year dealing with voter identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The photo ID requirement was proposed in at least 11 states: Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Indiana, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. So far, the most significant action and debate has been in Georgia, Indiana and Wisconsin.

In Indiana, the bill passed the Senate and the House and is back in the Senate awaiting approval of House amendments or a conference committee. If passed, it would go to Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

In Wisconsin, the bill could go to the desk of Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle next week. He has expressed opposition and this week proposed his own package of election reforms.

Currently, there are 19 states with voter identification laws on the books. Five of them require a photo ID, but permit an alternative means of identification. They are Hawaii, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota, the NCSL says.

In most cases, if a voter can't provide a photo ID at the polling place a provisional ballot can be cast, a reform encouraged by the federal Help America Vote Act. The voter's qualifications are reviewed later by election officials and they decide whether to accept the ballot.

Tim Storey, a senior fellow with NCSL, said the voter identification legislation is just one of many election reform issues before state legislatures.

"Since the 2000 Florida election there has just been a constant analysis and evaluation of every aspect of the voting process from registration to primaries to counting the ballots," he said.

In Georgia, the photo ID requirement was one element of a major election code overhaul that passed Thursday, but it was a controversial issue in the final debate.

There are currently 17 forms of identification accepted at the polling place in Georgia, including utility bills and bank statements. Under the proposed change, there would be six forms of government-issued photo ID accepted by poll workers.

A voter without a photo ID could cast a provisional ballot, but under current Georgia law he or she would have to present an ID within 48 hours to qualify as an official voter.

One of the opponents was Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, a Democrat, who questioned the justification for the bill. She could not recall a problem with false voter identification in the past nine years.

"Our history in Georgia has been one of broadening the right and opportunity to vote -- rather than erecting new barriers," she said. "And there are considerable numbers of our citizens -- some of our elderly and disabled included -- who don't carry a driver's license or another form of photo ID."

Republicans said the legislation was needed to ensure the security and integrity of the states process and some of them could not understand the opposition.

"I find it incredible that any elected official in Georgia could be against protecting the integrity of voting in this state," state Sen. Cecil Staton, R-Macon, told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Several groups, including the American Association of Retired Persons of Georgia and the League of Women Voters of Georgia, opposed the legislation because they said it would hinder voter participation.

In Indiana, Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita has supported legislation requiring voters to show photo ID to prove they are who they say they are before voting. He said the practice is common in everyday life today.

"Voters expect to be asked for identification when they cast their ballots," he said. "When they aren't asked for identification, you can sometimes read the looks on their faces, and you know they are thinking, 'How do they know I am who I say I am? Can anyone come in here and vote using my name?'"

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(Please send comments to nationaldesk@upi.com.)

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