How We Beat Voter ID

Posted on February 18, 2014


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We saw an attempt last week, once again, to make voting more difficult in Colorado for those who do not have a particular form of ID. Sponsored by Representative Szabo from Jefferson County, and Senator Harvey from Douglas County, the bill known as the "Reduce Voter Identity Theft Act" proposed to get rid of several permissible IDs that can now be used to vote: a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the elector. Without these options, an eligible voter would need to have a Colorado driver's license, state-issued ID card, a US Passport, or be a member of a limited number of other special categories -- (e.g. a pilot, a student at a Colorado college or university, a member of a Native American tribe). The only other way to be able to vote would be to have a certified copy of your birth certificate.

And although it's tempting for those of us who already have a driver's license to say "what's the big deal?" we know that there are thousands of eligible voters in Colorado and millions across the country without easy access to these forms of ID. Eligible voters should not be kept from voting for lack of photo ID.

Representative Szabo opened the public committee hearing by stating that HB14-1128 was NOT a photo ID bill. While not written using those words, the effect of the bill is to make photo ID virtually the only form of valid ID for voting. She characterized the forms of ID at issue in the bill as "archaic", "outdated" and, because they are easily forged, not secure for voting purposes. She particularly focused on the use of "other government documents" which she argued could include something as simple as a notice from a voter's local recreation center announcing an event. If someone simply threw the notice away in the trash, it would be possible, she argued, for another person to retrieve it and use it as ID to vote, thereby stealing that person's identity and vote.

The bill was supported by testimony from Suzanne Staiert, Deputy Secretary of State, Ryan Parcell from the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's office, Matt Crane, who is the Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder, Victor Head who is a citizen from Pueblo County, and Jeff Kelly, a representative of Colorado Voter Protection, an organization affiliated with True the Vote. All of the testimony in support of the bill focused on the ability to forge the kinds of documents at issue, and as he has done in prior years at hearings on similar bills, Mr. Kelly presented each member of the committee with a forged bank statement in the Committee member's name that he said he produced in 15 minutes. When questioned by Representative Salazar however, Mr. Kelly admitted that he was unaware of anyone ever using a forged document from the list as ID in an attempt to vote fraudulently in Colorado.

The truth is that these forms of ID are used very rarely in Colorado. Matt Crane, who said he supported the bill and that his fellow clerks in Jefferson, Douglas and Mesa counties also supported the bill, testified that out of 180,000 votes cast in Jefferson County in the 2013 election, only 12 people used one of the documents at issue as their ID to vote in person. The problem, however, is that for those people who use this form of ID, they almost never have any other form of ID. So to eliminate these options would not impact vast numbers of people, but it would impact absolutely all of those that do not have other ID.

The difficulty in obtaining ID was emphasized by several organizations that spoke in opposition to the bill. Nan Morehead, representing the Colorado ID Collaborative, a joint effort since 2007 among several nonpartisan, nonprofit groups to help citizens obtain identification, testified that the project has helped approximately 3,500 people a year. Those that come for help are usually citizens who are homeless, or victims of robberies, domestic violence victims who flee their circumstances without documents, seniors, victims of fires, floods or tornados who have lost their documents in the natural disaster, or individuals who do not have, and may never have had, a birth certificate. Obtaining an ID for persons in any of these circumstances is difficult. As Ms. Morehead pointed out, it takes a significant amount of time (over a year in some cases), and money (to track down documents in local jurisdictions and get copies). In addition, the person requesting the document frequently must take time off from work to get the assistance needed, pay transportation costs associated with the assistance and/or the obtaining of the original documents, and this time and money is not something that most people in these circumstances can afford.

Jennifer Levin, an attorney with The Legal Center for People with Disabilities and Older People, reiterated these concerns. She frequently deals with voters who do not have a driver's license any longer (if they ever did) and who in some instances also have physical limitations that make it difficult for them to access the ballot. The League of Women Voters also opposed the bill. Carol Tone, who spoke on behalf of the League, testified that keeping the option for using government documents as ID is important, especially for seniors, low income voters and citizens for whom ID is difficult to obtain. Because there is no evidence of voter identity theft as a consequence of including these documents, the League sees no reason to eliminate them.

Elena Nunez, Executive Director of Colorado Common Cause, rounded out the opposition. She pointed out that research from The Brennan Center for Justice has shown that as many as 11% of United States citizens nationwide -- that's approximately 21 million otherwise eligible voters -- do not have a form of ID that would permit them to vote if changes like those proposed in HB14-1128 were to be made. The vast majority of those impacted would be older people, low income voters and minority citizens -- groups that have been traditionally disenfranchised by the voting process. She noted that the elimination of the use of these categories of documents would disenfranchise voters and that there is no evidence that voter fraud is occurring in Colorado, and no evidence that the documents proposed to be eliminated are being used to commit any voter fraud or steal anyone's identity.

After 2 hours of testimony, the Committee voted against the bill on a 7-4 vote, and then voted to postpone the bill indefinitely, which effectively kills the bill for this legislative session. This was an important victory for voting rights in Colorado.

Office: Common Cause National, Colorado Common Cause

Issues: Voting and Elections, Voting and Elections

Tags: Protecting The Vote

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