Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

What's Wrong With Voter ID?

SANTA FE What’s wrong with presenting identification in order to vote? Voter identification has become a very partisan issue and I normally attempt to keep from siding too strongly with one side or the other when things get polarized.
But it just seems to be common sense that voting is at least as important as cashing a check, driving a car, flying on a commercial airline, renting a video, buying alcohol or tobacco or checking out a library book, all of which require identification.
Democrats claim that requiring identification might discourage some voters, especially minorities, college students and the poor, from trying to vote. That may be true to a small extent but Democrats loose in the public eye on this issue.
Stories of voter fraud are much more rampant in our society than stories of people being deprived of their constitutional right to vote. Poll taxes and complicated reading tests disappeared many years ago. We heard some scary stories from Florida in 2000 about voters being impeded from getting to the polls, and some may have been true.
But the public is much more concerned about voter fraud, such as people voting more than once, dead people voting and ineligible people registering to vote.
It is highly likely that both Republican and Democrat scare stories are grossly overstated. Republicans have long pushed for state legislation requiring all voters to present identification at the polls. Our Democratic-controlled legislatures have always thwarted those attempts.
The argument this year is over a requirement that newly registered voters present identification at the polls if they didn’t register in person. Republicans say this means they had to register at the county clerk’s office. Democrats say as long as they didn’t register by mail, voters don’t have to show identification.
This leaves in limbo the tens of thousands of first-time voters who were registered by deputy registrars in malls, grocery stores, state offices, union halls, coffee shops, gas stations and parking lots in very aggressive registration drives throughout the state this past year. According to reports, there were over 120,000 new voters registered this year.
The problem for Republicans is that almost twice as many registered Democrat. If the figures were reversed, you shouldn’t have much trouble guessing who would be complaining.
In a suit brought by Democrats, a Democrat district judge in Albuquerque ruled that as long as a voter was registered by a person, and not by mail, no identification would be required. In a suit brought by Republicans, a district judge in Roswell ruled that everyone who didn’t register at the county clerk’s office in person must present identification.
The all-Democrat state Supreme Court broke the tie in favor of the Democrat judge’s ruling. Sen. Pete Domenici has now introduced legislation in Washington requiring voters who register through a third party to present identification. It might stand a chance at the Republican-controlled federal level, but nothing happens quickly enough back there to affect this election.
Obviously, Republicans think they can shave a couple of points off the Democrat vote in this closest of all swing states in 2000 or they wouldn’t be working so hard at requiring identification. I doubt it will make that much difference. Democrats say Republicans are just trying to create chaos.
But the most telling argument to me is that in the newly-fashioned state Democratic presidential primary last February, Democratic officials originally wrote their rules requiring their members to present identification before voting. That quickly became a major embarrassment and red-faced officials wrote that out of the rules. We just might see Republicans introduce that Democratic language in the 2005 Legislature.
Voter identification just sounds logical. Suggestions of fraud deteriorate the public’s faith, already softened by negative campaigning, in our election system.
Guaranteeing everyone the right to vote is vitally important, but c’mon guys, how hard is it to present one form of ID?


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