A federal trial in Milwaukee on Wisconsin’s 2011 voter ID law concluded recently, and the verdict, when it comes, will help define the future of the Voting Rights Act, which has been in question since the Supreme Court gutted a core provision, Section 5, in June. This case could also set an important precedent for lawsuits recently filed against similar laws in Texas and North Carolina.
The Wisconsin law, which is now on hold, is among the strictest in the country. It requires a voter to show poll workers government-issued photo identification, like a driver’s license or passport....
For example, a political scientist testified that it is likely that more than 63,000 residents of Milwaukee do not have the required photo ID, and that black residents are 40 percent more likely than whites not to have such ID. In addition, one-third of those without a photo ID do not have the underlying documents, like a birth certificate, needed to get one. The court heard testimony from several such witnesses, including Lorene Hutchins, a 93-year-old black woman who was born at home in Mississippi at a time when the state’s hospitals refused to accept black patients.
For those living in poverty or on a fixed income, who are disproportionately people of color, even the $20 charge to get a copy of a birth certificate can be unaffordable, and is in practice no different from a poll tax.
Some statistics to throw some cold water on the claims that there were “no problems” with the voter ID law.
Delays at the polls this month due to glitches with voters’ identifications could signal a bigger problem to come next year, when many more turn out for state and county elections.
Thousands of voters had to sign affidavits or cast provisional ballots on Nov. 5 — the first statewide election held under the state’s new voter identification law — because their name on the voter rolls did not exactly match the name on their photo ID.
It took most only a short time, but election officials are concerned that a few minutes per voter to carefully check names and photos against voter registration cards, and then to have voters sign affidavits or fill out provisional paperwork, could snowball into longer waits and more frustration.
A review by The Dallas Morning News found that 1,365 provisional ballots were filed in the state’s 10 largest counties. In most of them, the number of provisional ballots cast more than doubled from 2011, the last similar election, to 2013.
Officials had no exact count for how many voters had to sign affidavits, but estimates are high. Among those who had to sign affidavits were the leading candidates for governor next year, Republican Greg Abbott and Democrat Wendy Davis.
“If it made any kind of a line in an election with 6 percent [voter] turnout, you can definitely imagine with a 58 percent,” said Dallas County elections administrator Toni Pippins-Poole.
In Dallas County, 13,903 people signed affidavits affirming their identity....
Harris County, the state’s largest, had 704 voters fill out provisional ballots. Of those, 105 were cast because the voter failed to show an acceptable photo ID.
Confusion about the ID law – and the conflict it created between poll workers and voters – accounted for 27 percent of the complaints to a watchdog group, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, monitoring the 2012 elections.
In Crawford County, for example, confusion over the law led to allegations of voter intimidation. Those centered on misleading signs posted by election workers that warned voters they would not be allowed to cast a ballot without showing a photo ID.
Melanie Mushrush, director of elections for Crawford County, conceded the signs were poorly phrased, and she apologized for the confusion. But county workers are in a difficult position, she said, when the state insists that poll workers ask for ID even though the appeals court’s injunction remains in effect.
As recently as this month, the Department of State promoted the voter ID law in television commercials even though enforcement of it remained stalled.
Unlike the controversy surrounding the voter ID law, a proposal to toughen penalties for intimidating voters is gaining favor across the political spectrum.
Legislatures in Missouri and other states have spent a lot of time in recent years discussing voter ID laws and other ways to make sure ineligible citizens don’t cast ballots.
Much less energy has gone into making sure that the electoral process works well for citizens who are eligible.
But that’s where the emphasis should be. Incidents of non-U.S. citizens voting, or people voting under the wrong identities, are far fewer than the glitches and barriers that prevent or discourage citizens from exercising their right to vote.
A project begun by Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander should bring the picture into sharper relief.
Kander has created an elections integrity unit to assess potential voting improprieties. A website connected to the secretary of state’s office —www.sos.mo.gov/elections/elections_integrity — encourages citizens who believe they have witnessed a violation of Missouri election law to file an online report. The office has pledged to evaluate every complaint and provide the source with a written response....
Along with providing a look at what does happen, the unit also may be useful in debunking rumors and countering false statements about the extent of identity-based voter fraud.
“It’s my job to make sure that only eligible voters vote but also to make sure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote,” Kander said.
That dual focus ought to be shared by governors and lawmakers, whatever their political affiliation. Elected officials in Missouri should use the elections integrity unit to help frame future legislative action and debates.
It's held that there’s a difference between rights and privileges. But with the issue of voter identification laws, that line gets a little blurry.
A Kentucky state senator says he is unsure when he will file voter ID legislation. Republican Floor Leader Sen. Damon Thayer says such a law is necessary to provide protections from voter fraud.
“You have to show your ID to purchase a packet of Sudafed; you have to show an ID to get on an airplane; you’ve got to show your ID to get a library card,” Thayer said. “People think something as precious as the right to vote, the integrity of the ballot, ought to be protected by the simple act of showing an ID.”
Thayer says that because voting is such a fundamental right, it should be protected from voter fraud. Although he couldn’t think of any recent examples of voter impersonation at Kentucky polling places, the GOP leader still plans to introduce such legislation between now and the 2014 meeting of the General Assembly.
“Free photographic voter ID cards are available to registered voters who sign an oath that they have no other valid form of photo identification,” [Arkansas Secretary of State Mark] Martin said.
Act 595 established a broad definition of a valid photo identification, besides the new voter identification cards, including post-secondary school issued IDs, employee ID badges, a concealed handgun permit, a public assistance identification card, U.S. military IDs, and state-issued driver’s licenses or ID cards.
Voters who have another form of photographic identification as defined in the Act do not qualify for one of the new voter identification cards.
“These identification cards accommodate voters who might otherwise not meet the ID requirements for voting,” Martin said.
“We have worked closely with county clerks’ offices across the state to implement this program, and will continue to do so,” he added. “We have set up a website with information about the Voter Identification law, and we encourage Arkansans to visit that site to learn what qualifies as photo ID and other aspects of the law. Additionally, we have worked through civic organizations like the NAACP to publicize the new law and will continue to actively work to notify voters of the new requirements.”
The Voter ID website through the Secretary of State’s office is www.faceyourvote.org.
New photo ID requirements have a disproportionate impact on young voters
“Since the last election, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas and other states have tried to limit or ban the use of student IDs as voter identification,” stated the report.
Black youth scored lower rates of identifications compared to their White peers, for driver’s licenses (71.2 percent vs. 85.1 percent), birth certificates (73.3 percent vs. 84.3 percent) and college IDs (24.9 percent vs. 30.9 percent).
In 2012, poll workers asked young, minority voters (18-29 years-old) to show ID at higher rates than their White peers. In states without photo ID requirements, more than 65 percent of young Blacks were asked to present identification, compared about 43 percent of young White voters. In states where photo IDs were required to cast votes, about 94 percent of young Blacks were asked for their ID compared to a little more than 84 percent of young Whites.
According to “The Time Tax” study, “Black youth reported that the lack of required identification prevented them from voting at nearly four times the rate of White youth (17.3% compared to 4.7%).”
Lawmakers in Wisconsin are attempting to pass legislation that will restrict the type of identification that will be accepted in future elections. The study found that registered African-American voters in Wisconsin are 40 percent more likely than White voters to lack a driver’s license or state ID. Seventy-eight percent of young, Black men (18-24 years-old) and 66 percent of young, Black women don’t have a driver’s license.
[Director of elections for Montgomery County Daniel] Baxter said the new law will change the culture of voting in the county and the state. It will require Alabama voters to have photo identification in order to vote.
He said it’s important that all voters understand how they can obtain a voter ID card if they don’t have or can’t afford government-issued ID.
“We want to saturate the community with the education to ensure that no elector in Montgomery is disenfranchised because they had no knowledge of (the law),” Baxter said. “We want to be available so individuals can ask those questions.”
Baxter said there already have been requests from several organizations interested in presentations about the new law. Education and community outreach requests will only increase as the June primary approaches, he said....
Baxter said aside from the secretary of state office’s plan to do a “media blitz,” every voter in Montgomery County will be touched through mailings and radio advertisements. But getting out in the community will have the most impact, he said.
“We definitely want to have that personal touch with the community by going out and sharing that information and answering any questions the community may have concerning (the new law),” Baxter said.