Politics 2012: Are voter ID laws protective or restrictive?

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International

Voter identification -- considered a safeguard against fraud by some and an effort to disenfranchise voters by others -- was a hot topic in state legislatures this year.

Twenty states that didn't have requirements requiring voter ID at the polls at the beginning of 2011 considered legislation this year. Two states -- Kansas and Wisconsin -- so far have enacted new voter ID requirements, statistics posted on the National Conference for State Legislatures indicate.


Governors in Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed voter ID bills in 2011, but backers in Minnesota vowed to pass a similar ID bill next year that would skip the gubernatorial step and take the matter to the voters instead, similar to what the Oklahoma Legislature did in 2009 and 2010. Mississippi voters will weigh in on a citizen initiative proposing voter ID in November.

Of the 30 states with voter ID laws, 14 require a picture ID of the voter.


During the recent recall elections, poll workers in Wisconsin asked voters to present ID as a trial run in several elections, but voters won't have to show a voter ID until the February 2012 primary.

In a report, the League of Woman Voters in Wisconsin indicated the dry run created some confusion at the polls, WXOW-TV, La Crosse, Wis., reported recently.

The league said it monitored 94 polling places, reporting long lines and inconsistency by election workers about asking voters for identification.

"It had been a very quick turnaround [between] the time the laws had changed and the first election, which was the recall election. So there wasn't as complete training as there probably will be before next spring," League of Woman Voters member Ellen Roseborough told WXOW.

The (Madison) State Journal said election workers tried to work out the kinks of the voter ID law signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker during a mock election recently.

"This will take people longer to do, there is no getting around that," said Dane County Clerk Karen Peters, who was an observer of the mock vote. "Voters will just have to be patient, because there is a lot that goes into this."


The law requires voters to have photo IDs or to complete provisional ballots, which clerks say could delay final results by as long as a week. Those who complete provisional ballots must bring a photo ID to a clerk's office by the Friday after Election Day.

In Tennessee, voters will have to show a state-issued photo ID such as a driver's license in 2012. However, tens of thousands of driver licenses in Tennessee do not meet the minimum requirements to gain entry to the polls because the licenses don't have a photo, WBIR-TV, Knoxville, Tenn., reported.

"Approximately 126,000 people in Tennessee have a valid driver's license that does not have their picture on it," said Evonne Hoback, McMinn County Clerk. "The new voter ID law says you need an ID that has your name and your photograph."

Tennessee allows people at least 60 years old to get a non-photo driver's license if they choose to renew by mail.

To help voters get driver's licenses that meet the new voter ID requirements, McMinn County is one of 30 in the Volunteer State where clerks issue replacement driver's licenses free.

Tennessee is one of only four of the 14 states requiring a photo ID to issue non-photo driver licenses. Indiana, Kansas, and Wisconsin also provide non-photo driver licenses for those whose religious beliefs prevent them from being photographed.


A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found state changes to voting laws -- such as showing a picture ID or a birth certificate -- would create difficulties for more than 5 million eligible voters.

"This is the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. More voters may be affected than the margin of victory in two out of the past three presidential elections," said Michael Waldman, the center's executive director. "In 2012 we should make it easier for every eligible citizen to vote. Instead, we have made it far harder for too many. Partisans should not try to tilt the electoral playing field in this way."

In Kansas, besides requiring voters to show a photo ID, the new voting law requires anyone registering to vote for the first time in Kansas to provide proof of their U.S. citizenship, beginning in 2013, The Kansas City (Kan.) Kansan reported.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the Brennan Center study is flawed, referring to a finding that 11 percent of U.S. citizens don't have a state-issued ID, based on a 2006 national telephone survey that the Brennan Center said remained valid today.


"It's not a valid number," Kobach said. "It's a completely bogus extrapolation."

Larry Norden, one of the study's authors and deputy director of the Brennan Center, said the 2006 study results have been backed up by more recent surveys.

"Every study that I'm aware of has come up with the same findings," Norden told the Kansan.

To the contrary, supporters of photo IDs to vote say potential problems are exaggerated, citing a 2008 study by the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University for support.

A survey of three states -- Indiana, Maryland and Mississippi -- indicated about 1 percent of registered voters lacked a photo ID, the American University study found. The study also found that the debate over voter ID often was partisan.

"The problem with both partisan sides of the debate is that there is little evidence that would allow each side to prove its case," the study said. "The supporters of ID can point to few examples of multiple or false voting, and the opponents cannot identify voters who did not vote because they did not have a voter ID."

Citing the Brennan study, the nation League of Women Voters says on its Web site it opposes "efforts to create new barriers that block citizen voter participation. We therefore oppose ID and documentary proof-of-citizenship requirements."


Identification requirements, the league said, disproportionately affect young people, the elderly, minorities, the disabled and the poor.

Current laws work and ensure the voting process is fair, just, secure and accessible, the LWV said.

"[Evidence] proves that illegal voting is extremely low," the league said on its Web site. "At the federal level, only 24 people were convicted of voter fraud between 2002 and 2005. Indeed, Americans are twice as likely to get hit by lighting as to have their vote canceled out by a fraudulently cast vote."

In a commentary in The National Review, however, Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans A. von Spakovsky said, "The fraud denialists also must have missed the recent news coverage of the double voters in North Carolina and the fraudster in Tunica County, Miss., … who was sentenced in April to five years in prison for voting in the names of 10 voters, including four who were deceased."

Also untrue, von Spakovsky said, were claims that new voter ID laws and other reforms "designed to protect the integrity of the democratic process" were meant to suppress the votes of Democrats and minorities. Von Spakovsky, a former Federal Election Commission commissioner and a former voting counsel at the U.S. Justice Department, called the Brennan study "dubious" and said the center was a "partisan and unobjective advocacy organization."


Latest Headlines