I. In Focus This Week
Is 2011 the year of voter ID?
Photo identification legislation filed in statehouses across the country
Each day Americans present their photo ID to complete all sorts of daily transactions from purchasing alcohol, to entering government buildings, to flying on airplanes to writing checks. What the majority of Americans still don’t do though is present a photo ID to cast a ballot.
While more than half of the states in the U.S. require a voter to show some form of identification in order to cast a ballot there are still only two states, Georgia and Indiana, which require a photo ID with no exceptions (Oklahoma’s new law takes effect July 1, 2011). In total, nine states require or request a voter to show photo identification and 18 states require an ID of some sort, ranging from a driver’s license to a utility bill.
With statehouses across the country getting back to work in the New Year, experts expect that number to increase in 2011. In a number of states, some legislators are so eager to start the fight that voter ID legislation has been pre-filed in advance of the session.
In the past, the discourse over voter ID has been heated. In South Carolina, legislators walked out of the statehouse in protest and in Texas, one legislator was brought in on a hospital bed in order to vote against voter ID.
“I tend to doubt the dynamics of voter/photo identification will change very much,” said Michael J. Pitts, associate professor of law at Indiana University School of Law. “I think you’ll see voter/photo ID get passed where Republicans control all the levels of government and generally not get passed where they don’t.”
Currently, nearly a dozen states have legislation circulating through the process or are planning to introduce it when their sessions convene. Here is a sampling of some of that legislation:
Mississippi: In 2009, voter photo ID legislation fell one vote short of passage in Mississippi. Following the defeat, supporters of photo ID garnered enough signatures to place a photo ID initiative on the ballot for the next general election. In spite of that, at least one voter photo ID piece of legislation has been filed. HB0233 would require a photo ID and proof of citizenship to vote. In addition, another piece of legislation HB0462 would provide a free Mississippi voter photo ID card for any voter who does not have a driver’s license.
Missouri: The legislature in the Show Me state want voters to show them their IDs and are once again tackling photo ID in the 2011 session. SB3 requires a voter to show some form of state or federal issued photo ID. The legislation also provides for reimbursement from the state for “all costs incurred by the election authority associated with implementing the new identification requirements.”
Montana: H152 amends the state’s current voter ID law—which allows a voter to show a photo ID or two other types of ID — to limit possible types of ID to photo only. The bill has been referred to the House State Administration Committee.
North Carolina: Although no legislation has yet been filed — the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 26 — Republican members of the Assembly have said that passing photo ID legislation in the first 100 days of the session is a top priority. Although the Republicans now control the General Assembly which experts say makes the passage of photo ID more likely, Gov. Bev Perdue is not necessarily sold on the idea.
South Carolina: The very first bill filed in this year’s session S1 would require voters to show a photo ID to vote. If the voter does not have a photo ID, they may cast a provisional ballot. Exceptions are made for religious opposition to having a photo taken.
Texas: Rep. Charles Anderson pre-filed HB539 on Jan. 6 which would require a voter to show a photo ID or two forms of other ID including a utility bill or bank statement. In addition House Elections Committee Chairman Todd Smith, who led the charge over voter ID in 2009, introduced HB401. The legislation is modeled after Georgia’s photo ID law and in addition to requiring a photo ID to vote would also authorize creation of a voter identification card. According to the Star-Telegram, the outlook for a voter ID measure has changed dramatically after a Republican sweep in the November elections and two Democrats' recent defections.
Wisconsin: This week, Republicans in Wisconsin introduced a bill that would require a photo ID to vote in the Badger state. According to the legislators, the bill is modeled after Indiana’s voter ID law and would allow voters only to cast a ballot with a photo ID, those without would cast a provisional ballot. The legislation includes a provision to provide free identification to those who cannot afford it and would exempt those living in senior housing or nursing homes if an election official is sent to the facility. In addition to introducing the legislation, Representative Jeff Stone and Senator Joe Leibham also announced their plans to amend the state’s constitution to include voter photo ID.
Voter ID, and in particular photo ID, played a central role in several states during the 2010 campaign cycle. Although nothing has yet to make its way through the legislative pipeline, expectations are high that Colorado, Iowa, Kansas and New Mexico will see movement on the voter ID front this legislative session. All states are now in session or will be by the end of the month.
“My sense is that for better or for worse, the trend toward the adoption of photo identification requirements at the state level will continue,” Pitts said. “Moreover, with the federal government now divided between Democrats and Republicans, there is no prospect for federal legislation that would pre-empt state photo identification laws.”
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