“You’ve got to vote for that photo ID bill because of all the voter fraud,” the caller said. “All kinds of people are voting that aren’t supposed to.”
Last week a Senate Committee debated the merits of a bill to require every voter to show a current photo ID before voting. And not just any ID. Only a current driver’s license, military ID or state-issued photo ID would count. Tribal IDs, passports, veteran’s benefit IDs or student IDs would not.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports 27 states require some form of voter ID. But most states allow a variety of forms - including hunting and fishing licenses, student IDs and Medicare or social security cards. Only two states, Georgia, and Indiana, require a photo ID. No state requires the ID be as narrowly defined as the bill being debated in Wisconsin.
With over 60 co-sponsors, the bill will likely become law. Critics cry foul, saying no evidence of wide-spread fraud exists; that the bill is designed to keep the poor, disabled, seniors, students, minorities and women (who change their names) from the polls. Research shows these groups are less likely to have an accurate, current license including a third of all women.
Supporters want the new law in place for the April Supreme Court Election. State elections officials say time is needed to train local election officials and provide thousands of state residents a government-issued ID card.
Of particular concern are students who can vote if they, like all residents, live in the state for ten days before an election. To obtain a Wisconsin drivers license a resident must surrender their prior state license. This creates problems for students who may return to their parent’s home for summer employment.
To further complicate things, the proposed law requires, in certain elections, the ID photo must ‘reasonably resemble the voter.” Years ago to save taxpayer dollars, the Department of Transportation started issuing driver’s licenses that are valid for several years. And unless you are ageless, it’s possible the photo may not resemble you.
Then there is the issue of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) being open in a town near you. Last session I joined other rural Democrats in a battle to keep our local DMV sites open. How does the senior, who relies on her daughter to run errands, get a government-issued ID when the nearest DMV site is open one day a month?
Also of concern are absentee voters. The proposed law requires a voter submitting a mail-in ballot to include a copy of a valid photo ID. The voter’s identity must already be verified and the vote cast in the presence of a witness. Nursing homes residents who vote must complete the ballot in front of two special voting deputies who certify the identity of the voter. It seems highly unlikely these special deputies would agree with the nursing home resident to commit fraud.
So what about all that voter fraud?
Stories abound of efforts to manipulate elections through fraud. But state investigations verified there is very little actual fraud in Wisconsin. After the hotly contested 2004 election, the “fraud” amounted to less than 2 out of every one million votes cast. Kevin Kennedy, the Government Accountably Board Director, reported that in 2008 twenty people were charged with voter fraud. Most were convicted felons on probation and ineligible to vote. The voter ID bill would not prevent felons from voting because the state does not forbid felons, once released, from getting a driver’s license.
Mr. Kennedy also addressed reports of “concerted ways to affect numerous votes” saying prosecutors never found evidence of such. Doug Lewis of the National Association of Election Officials was quoted that fraud “just doesn’t exist on a wide-spread basis.”
Finally Mr. Kennedy spoke about the cost of implementing the proposed law which he said is “stricter” and “more cumbersome and costly to administer” than any other state. Costs in other states ran in the millions.
We must protect the integrity of elections but we must balance this with the costs of such protections - both the cost of disenfranchising legitimate voters and the costs to local and state government in administering elections.