Colorado joins 2012 national voter ID war

DENVER– Republicans and Democrats skirmished Wednesday over voter ID requirements, taking up a battle waging in capitols around the country and rehashing arguments that have been set against each other here every year for nearly a decade. The bill, HB 1111, passed in a party line vote in the Republican-controlled House State Affairs committee but is sure to be killed later on a party-line vote in a Democrat-controlled Senate committee.

Republican lawmakers and witnesses who testified in support of the bill said state-issued photo IDs would be “one more tool” clerks could use in the work of securing elections against fraud. They argued that Americans use photo IDs to conduct the commonplace business of their lives, to travel, do banking, visit the doctor, buy alcohol, for example, and that voting is at least as important as those everyday activities.

Democrats pointed out that photo ID laws create obstacles to voting and only work to prevent polling-place voter impersonation, a problem that they said statistically does not exist. They cited the five-year Bush justice department effort to root out voter fraud that found only 86 instances in a period where 300 million votes were cast, the fraud overwhelmingly stemming from polling place and registration mistakes and not from conspiracy to influence voting results.

Witnesses opposed to the bill pointed to studies that suggest it is not voter fraud that presents the real challenge to the integrity of U.S. elections, but election fraud– where ballot boxes are stuffed, votes are hidden, electronic voting machines tampered with, for example.

Like other witnesses, AARP spokesman Dennis Valentine reminded the committee that, although it might seem impossible to middle class Americans between the ages of 21 and 61, acquiring and keeping an updated photo ID can be difficult for whole demographic categories of citizens, including seniors.

“Maybe you have one at 65,” he said “but not at 75 or 85. You’re not driving anymore. And if you don’t have one, it’s a long tough process to get one.”

Linda Olson, an attorney with Colorado Legal Services’ Collaborative ID Project, said the project has helped secure IDs for 10,000 Coloradans in the last three years and turned away hundreds of others. She described the red-tape tangles that plague the efforts of the project and the fees that mount into the hundreds of dollars for people working in ID limbo with missing birth certificates and unmatching social security numbers and competing official and semi-official names.

Democratic members of the committee asked supporters of the bill, including two county clerks, for evidence that polling-place impersonation was being perpetrated in the state in a way that would justify the new law.

Arapahoe County Clerk Nancy Doty said she thought there had been a handful of likely examples in the eight years she has been clerk. She recalled that one man voted for his father and a woman had voted twice.

Blogger Kelly Maher testified as she has in the past to what she characterized as Colorado’s lamentable “low bar” voter ID requirements. She waved in the air the home-computer printout of an electric bill she uses as her voter ID. “This is it,” she said with dramatic irony. She asked the committee members to pass the photo ID bill as a way to fight disillusionment among citizens who fear their votes are being compromised.

Maher’s testimony perhaps unintentionally highlighted a key dynamic running under the issue.

Although no committee member nor witness in favor of the bill delivered evidence that polling-place impersonation occurred here in a way that might influence election results, they sparked serious discussion about polling-place voter impersonation fraud. The effect was that, at some point, the argument turned almost imperceptibly from being about the need to battle polling-place fraud to the need to battle the perception that polling places are vulnerable to fraud, a perception spurred at least in part by the steady push year after year to pass photo ID laws.