Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Toward a Reasonable Compromise on Indiana's Voter Identification Law

Probably no topic inspires more demagoguery among the leadership of both the Democrats and Republican than the issue of whether to require voter identification at the polls. Up until a few years ago, voters in Indiana could vote simply by signing next to their name in the poll registration book. In the poll book was generally an old signature, the poll workers could compare the voter's signature too and, supposedly, challenge the voter if the new signature looked different from the one in the poll book.

In the middle 1970s, I signed my social security card, as a 14 year old. When I went in to vote in my Marion County precinct last year, I found that the signature on the poll books was still that signature from 33 years ago.

The problem is that signatures change. As an attorney signing documents for 21 years, my signature has evolved, some would say "devolved," into an illegible scribble. Like our Secretary of State, Todd Rokita, I could have been subject to a challenge based on the signature alone. This example also highlights one problem I have never seen reported: many counties do not update voter signatures.

As reported previously in this blog, Marion County/Indianapolis has 105% registration. Many other Indiana counties have more people listed in their poll books than people in the county over 18 and who would be eligible to vote.

In an age in which people have to show identification almost daily, it was extremely disingenuous for Democrats to scream that the Republicans were for "voter suppression" by wanting voters to show identification to vote. When the state's bloated registration rolls came to light in 2008, Democrats lost the argument that a simple signature to vote is an adequate safeguard.

While Democrats were overreaching in claiming the signature system worked, so too were Republicans in the sort of voter identification law they suggested the state adopt. The law eventually passed required that voters show a "government-issued" photo ID. Unlike most states, Indiana has no affidavit alterantive or option for the voter to use other forms of photo identification.

Unfortunately when an issue becomes as partisan as the voter identification law has become, reasonable and fair solutions get tossed aside as the parties jockey for perceived advantage. Senate Bill 5, authored by State Senator Sue Errington of Muncie, brings some much needed balance to the issue. In her bill she proposes that the voter identification law be changed so that it includes:

1) Identification issued by the state or county registration office.
2) Identification issued by the United States
3) Identification issued by a state education institution or a private institution of higher education. (As someone who carries his University of Indianapolis faculty ID, I would appreciate this.)
4) A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or another government document that shows the name and address of the voter.
5) A driver's license or state ID card.

Then the bill goes on and says that if the voter fails to have one of the IDs above, he or she could still vote by the execution of an affidavit affirming that he or she is the voter listed.

I would want to see Senator Errington's bill tweaked certainly. I don't see a problem with the "photo" part of the photo identification law. But other forms of photo identification should be allowed. For example, I have a faculty ID card from the University of Indianapolis. There is no reason why that ID should not be sufficient. But under the current law it would not be. Also, there needs to be an affidavit back-up for voters. The notion that voters would travel from precinct to precinct, executing false affidavits in order to commit voter fraud, is nonsense. It's a reasonable safeguard to protect voters from being disenfranchised and one Republicans should cease objecting to.

As a Democrat proposal in the Republican-controlled Senate, I know Senator Errington's bill is dead on arrival. That's unfortunate. Senate Bill 5 could be a vehicle to set aside demagoguery and come up with some reasonable middle ground on a photo ID law, with an affidavit backup. The parties need to stop their partisan games with the issue and come up with a compromise that protects the integrity of the vote, while not unnecessarily disenfranchising voters.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

For example, I have a faculty ID card from the University of Indianapolis. There is no reason why that ID should not be sufficient.

University/college IDs should not be allowed. The problem with this is that too many out-of-state/area kids could end up voting twice. Given the morals of some of the younger generation, it isn't like they would think this would be wrong. This is why most state BMVs will only give you a license in their state _after_ you physically surrender the license you had from another state. The kid at Purdue who complained about not being able to vote because he had a driver's license from his east coast home state is a prefect example. If you declare to be an Indiana citizen, then you need to follow the law and get your Indiana driver's license and plate your vehicles in Indiana. This kid from Purdue could have easily registered in his home state and Indiana. He could have voted in his home state using that states driver's license and then went back to Purdue and voted in Indiana using only his student ID.