Monday, December 11, 2017

Tough ID laws could block thousands of 2012 votes

When Edward and Mary Weidenbener went to vote in Indiana's primary in May, they didn't realize state law required them to bring government photo IDs such as a driver's license or passport.

The husband and wife, both approaching 90 years old, had to use a temporary ballot that would be verified later, even though they knew the people working the polling site that day. Unaware that Indiana law obligated them to follow up with the county election board, the Weidenbeners ultimately had their votes rejected — news to them until informed recently by an Associated Press reporter.

Edward Weidenbener, a World War II veteran who had voted for Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential contest, was surprised. "A lot of people don't have a photo ID. They'll be automatically disenfranchised," he said.

As more states put in place strict voter ID rules, an AP review of temporary ballots from Indiana and Georgia, which first adopted the most stringent standards, found that more than 1,200 such votes were tossed during the 2008 general election.

During primaries this year in Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee, the states implementing the toughest laws, hundreds more ballots were blocked.

The numbers suggest that the legitimate votes rejected by the laws are far more numerous than are the cases of fraud that advocates of the rules say they are trying to prevent. Thousands more votes could be in jeopardy for this November, when more states are looking to have similar rules in place.

Republicans who support the laws say they want to prevent fraud. Democrats and voting rights groups fear that ID laws could suppress votes among people who may not typically have a driver's license, and disproportionately affect the elderly, poor and minorities.

Supporters of the laws cite anecdotal cases of fraud as a reason that states need to do more to secure elections, but fraud appears to be rare. As part of its effort to build support for voter ID laws, the Republican National Lawyers Association last year published a report that identified some 400 election fraud prosecutions over a decade across the entire country. That's not one per state per year.

Election administrators and academics who monitor the issue said in-person fraud is rare because someone would have to impersonate a registered voter and risk arrest. A 2008 Supreme Court case drew detailed briefs from the federal government, 10 states and other groups that identified only nine potential impersonation cases over the span of several years, according to a tally by the Brennan Center at New York University.

Michael Thielen, executive director of the Republican lawyers group, said its survey was not comprehensive and he believes vote fraud is a serious problem. "Most of it goes unreported and unprosecuted," he said.

Several election administrators said the rejected ballots in their counties appeared to be legitimate voters who simply did not fulfill their ID obligations.

Donna Sharp, the administrator of elections in Hawkins County, Tenn., said she saw no signs of fraud. Of the seven people who cast absentee ballots, six didn't come in to confirm their identity. She knew one of them personally.

But Sharp said she supports the ID law despite initial concerns. She thought the rules provided an extra layer of security.

Indiana, Georgia and Tennessee require that voters provide a photo ID at the polls. Failing that, voters can use a temporary ballot that can be verified later.

Georgia had 873 rejected temporary ballots due to ID from the 2008 election while about 300 ID temporary ballots were counted. The state tossed 64 ID-related temporary ballots in the presidential primary this year.

Indiana tossed hundreds of ballots in the 2008 election, and more than 100 more were rejected in the primary this year.

Tennessee blocked 154 ballots in its March primary.

Keesha Gaskins, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center who has opposed voter ID laws, said she believes the numbers are significant and also underestimate the impact of voter ID laws. She said those numbers don't take into account people who were discouraged from showing up to vote in the first place or who may be turned away by poll workers.

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