Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Voter ID in House committee

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2013 at 11:26 AM

I've been out this morning. Just tuning in to the House State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee, where Sen. Bryan King's voter ID supression bill is being discussed. Stream here.

UPDATE: No vote coming today after Rep. Jim NIckels requests a fiscal impact statement.

We'll have a report on the discussion directly, but Ernie Dumas gets to the heart of the matter in his column this week:

You can make a case for passing unconstitutional laws when the sponsors and supporters are driven by moral zealotry, even when it is misplaced, but what can you say for simple meanness?

In either case, the laws will be challenged in court and struck down, but if the unconstitutional acts would, for example, make early abortions a crime when the courts have consistently said they are legal, the sponsors are left with a feeling of righteousness. But what is rewarding about having tried to be mean to old and disabled people and the poor?

Meanness is the only explanation for Republican bills working their way through state legislatures, including Arkansas's, that would prevent people from voting unless they have a government-issued photo identification — well, meanness and giving your party a bigger advantage at the polls.

The party figured out a few years ago that if you could hold down voting in certain areas and among certain population groups — minorities, the disabled, the elderly and people who are likely to be very poor — you could reduce the votes for Democratic candidates and improve your chances of winning. The best way to do it is make voting so slow, owing to a paucity of voting machines and election workers at key precincts, that people will give up and go home. Thousands abandoned the polls in Florida's big cities in the 2012 election.

The other method is to require people to have a government photo ID, a daunting hurdle if you are not a driver or don't travel abroad or you are not a college student with student ID card.

Stopping voter fraud is the reason they give for demanding photo IDs. We still have some election fraud in Arkansas and in other states, but photo IDs will do nothing to stop it. Nearly all the voting skullduggery uncovered in Arkansas and elsewhere was committed by election officials who connive to get extra votes for their party or their candidates or to shave legitimate votes from the other side, most commonly through loose absentee-voting procedures. A photo ID won't stop them and it might even help them.

A photo ID is supposed to stop a person from finding a registered voter who is not voting and then going to the polls pretending to be that person. Individual voters are rarely motivated to go to such lengths and to such risk to get an extra vote for a candidate, even their brother. In a dozen years of chasing Arkansas vote thieves in Conway County and elsewhere, Tom Glaze identified thousands of illegal votes but none that would have been stopped by a photo ID. The thieves were election officials and their bosses, never individual voters, except the few cases where people registered and voted in several counties. They had driver IDs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that an Indiana law similar to SB 2, passed last week by the Arkansas Senate on a party vote, did not violate the 24th Amendment (outlawing the poll tax) or equal protection under the 14th amendment. The majority said the state provided no evidence from Indiana or elsewhere of fraud that the photo ID would prevent but that the court had to defer to a state legislature if it thought the step might prevent some fraud.

But SB 2 violates the Arkansas Constitution. Amendment 51, which outlawed the poll tax and established a system of permanent voter registration, prevents the legislature or a local government from adding new requirements for voting beyond the lengthy procedures in the amendment.

Amendment 51 addresses the very problem that the bill claims to attack — people trying to cast someone else's vote.

Before you can get a ballot now, an election judge must determine that your name and signature or mark when you sign the voting form are identical to the signature on your registration affidavit. If you are somehow unable to sign the form, the election judge must make you give your date of birth and see that it matches the date on the original voter registration affidavit.

The voter ID bills, including SB 2, establish a way for you get a photo ID free (if the state charges for it, it would be like a poll tax and illegal under both federal and state constitutions). The secretary of state must buy photo ID equipment for all the county clerks in the state. People who don't have cars or otherwise do not have a government photo ID would have to go to the courthouse with a birth certificate or other government documents to prove they are registered legally and are who they claim to be, get their pictures taken and have a card issued to them. If they misplace it they can't vote.

The assumption, according to some Republican leaders who have admitted its political purpose, is that to many of the poor and elderly that is just too much trouble.

Oh, if you have-concealed -carry permit you won't have to have a driver's license, passport or an ID card from the county clerk. Shouldn't an NRA membership card do? If you go to vote without a photo ID card, the election judge must take your name and the county election commission is required by SB 2 to turn you in to the prosecuting attorney.

No intimidation is intended, of course.

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