States Require New Proof of Identity at Polls

Mark K. Matthews, Stateline.org, Apr. 27

Voting in some states soon may feel like checking into the airport: Get ready to flash some photo identification.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed a law April 22 that requires voters to show a photo ID before voting, giving his state one of the stiffest election laws in the country. Similar photo ID bills passed the legislatures in both Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has said he will sign it, and in Wisconsin, where Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has vowed a veto. South Carolina also requires a photo ID.

The photo ID bills are meant to clamp down on voter fraud at a time when Americans are polarized and when close local and national elections have put new emphasis on the ideal that every vote counts. But the rules are under attack from civil liberties and civil rights groups, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who argue the laws put up voting barriers especially to the poor and minorities and smack of pre-civil rights movement Jim Crow regulations.

“You have one segment of legislators that is extremely concerned that if you don’t have this in place, you can’t guarantee every vote is legitimate,” said Kristin Armshaw, who analyzes civil justice issues for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of conservative state legislators that supports voter identification measures. “On the other hand, some legislators consider this as a form of a poll tax.”

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Walter Butler, president of the Georgia branch of the NAACP, said even the tiniest distraction could hurt election participation numbers, particularly among the elderly and poor who may have difficulty obtaining a photo ID such as a passport or driver’s license. Minorities also might be unfairly affected because they are disproportionably poor, according to U.S. Census figures.

“I have been registering voters for over 30 years,” said Butler, who has driven church members from his parish to the polls. “And when you put something extra out there to cause a person to go another step in order to register or vote, it impedes them and cuts down on the number of people that do vote.”

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