Is photo ID law useless action?
Of all of the problems with voting, fraud is at the bottom of the list, some say. Yet several states are addressing the issue.
By ALISA ULFERTS
Published August 21, 2006
Pregnant chad, missing ballots, broken machines, ill-trained staffers and lines that snaked so far back that the polls closed before everyone voted:
By most standards, the last two Florida presidential elections have served up a smorgasbord of irregularity.
Now, as they seek to rebuild trust at the polls, state legislatures increasingly are seizing on voter fraud as an issue. Several states - Florida included - recently passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification to vote.
Beginning with early voting today, Floridians must present photo and signature ID at the polls, or else cast a provisional ballot subject to local approval after the election.
Yet, groups working to defeat photo ID laws said one of the few things not alleged in 2000 or 2004 was widespread voting theft by crooks posing as registered voters. They point to federal figures showing that there have been only 52 voter fraud convictions out of 192,139,871 votes cast since 2002.
Those opposed to photo ID laws want to know why states decided that voter ID was the answer when voter impersonation was never the question.
"People don't have faith in the machinery, or in the officials having their interests at heart. (Voter fraud) was never the issue for why people lost faith in the electoral system," said Jonah Goldman of Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C. The organization is involved in legal challenges in several states.
"The few times it happens, it's far outweighed by the numbers of people who are disenfranchised as a result of these restrictions," Goldman said.
Arizona requires photo identification and proof of citizenship. Ohio, Missouri and Albuquerque, N.M., have a photo law, as does Indiana. Florida's law passed in 2005.
Many of the laws are being challenged in court, and in some cases - such as Georgia - they've been overturned.
Jason Torchinsky said the photo requirement is a concrete and reasonable action that will go a long way toward ensuring both the accuracy of elections and voters' trust in the outcome. Torchinsky's group, the American Center for Voting Rights in Virginia, is helping to defend voter ID laws in several states.
"The same groups that oppose voter ID oppose purging the rolls" of ineligible voters, Torchinsky said.
"We think ID is a good thing. We think photo ID is best," Torchinsky said.
Like it or not, photo ID is now the law in Florida. But it passed with such little fanfare - a single paragraph in a 153-page bill - that state officials are racing to get word out to early voters and regular primary voters that they need to bring along their ID.
Secretary of State Sue Cobb has already taped several public service announcements informing voters of the law change. The announcements are running in media markets all over the state, spokesman Sterling Ivey said.
Pasco County Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning already has posted the requirement on his Web site, and he's thinking of taking out ads in local newspapers the weekend before the primary. He said he thinks the photo requirement is reasonable, but he wants people to know about it.
"We're trying to get the word out," Browning said.
But some advocates fear that even that won't help the voters who don't have ID and may not be in a position to get it before the Sept. 5 primary.
Goldman said lower-income and minority voters, who tend to vote Democrat, are more likely to be turned away from the polls for lack of ID than are middle class, ethnic majority voters. His group cites studies conducted in Georgia and Wisconsin that show that the elderly, those with low income and minorities are disproportionately disenfranchised by photo ID laws.
"This was a way to remove certain voting blocs from the system. I know that sounds like black helicopters, but there's no logical reason for why this was the action," Goldman said.
Torchinsky pointed to polls that show high voter support for photo ID, including a referendum requiring proof of identity for municipal elections that 70 percent of Albuquerque voters approved in 2005.
"There is consistent support in polls for voter ID," Torchinsky said.
Florida voters who appear without ID will be allowed to vote a provisional ballot. But the way that provisional ballots are vetted - the county canvassing board, which has no handwriting expertise, compares the signature on the ballot to the signature on the registration form - is an art rather than a science and could lead to legitimate voters being rejected.
"If you register to vote when you are 18 and you've voted every year for 10 years, but your signature has changed, matured a little bit, then what happens? Do they just toss it out?" said Mark Bubriski, spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party.
Bubriski said the party is training lawyers and other volunteers to help people at the polls. Local party activists also are encouraging people to vote absentee, which is exempt from the ID requirements.
Jeff Sadosky, spokesman for the Republican Party of Florida, said his side also is getting the word out to Republican voters to bring their ID, but he said he thinks the law, given the different kinds of acceptable ID, is fair.
"It does not even come close to causing any problems," Sadosky said.
That may be why the Florida law isn't being challenged. Goldman said his group may take a look at the Florida law, once litigation in the other states is settled.
And the League of Women Voters of Florida, a nonpartisan voter advocacy group, which might have launched a legal challenge to the law, said its time, attention and money already are tied up in court. The group has sued over another change in Florida law that severely penalizes third-party groups that make mistakes when turning in voter registration applications.
"We don't have the money to challenge the law," said Dianne Wheatley-Giliotti, president of the league.
AT THE POLLS
Early voting begins today and runs Monday through Saturday through Sept. 2. Check with your county supervisor of elections for exact times and locations. You must bring a photo and signature identification with you to vote. Below is a list of the accepted forms of identification. A combination may be used to fulfill the photo and signature requirements:
- Florida driver's license
- Florida identification card issued by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles
- U.S. passport
- Employee badge or identification
- Buyer's club identification
- Debit or credit card
- Military identification
- Student identification
- Retirement center identification
- Neighborhood association identification
- Public assistance identification
Source: Florida Division of Elections