Voter ID bill needs to go away for good— May 7, 2013
A state senator who sponsored a bill earlier this year requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls in order to cast a ballot thinks Wyoming voter requirements are “ridiculously low.”
“I’ve been told all you need to do to vote in Wyoming is to show a motel receipt and say you intend to move here,” Sen. Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) told me in a phone interview Saturday.
That would be absolutely outrageous, of course, if it were true. But it’s not. I don’t know where the senator is getting his information, but it’s clearly not the Secretary of State’s office or any county clerk I’ve ever known.
In fact, Wyoming residents are already required to do what Driskill wants — present a valid Wyoming driver’s license — when they register to vote. If they don’t have a driver’s license, which many people don’t possess for a variety of reasons, they must provide the last four digits of their Social Security number. The only major difference between the bill Driskill proposed and the current law is that since residents already present identification to register, they don’t have to show it again at the polls.
This drives completely crazy those who see conspiracy everywhere. That mania is largely driven by right-wing emails that proliferate at election time alleging rampant voter fraud throughout all but a handful of states that require photo ID. What about the Ohio woman who voted six times for Obama for president? they ask. Or, the people who managed to vote for him even though they actually died years ago?
Every legitimate investigation after recent presidential elections has concluded that claims of massive voter fraud in major metropolitan areas are categorically false. These wild urban legends, though, are used to freak out people in sparsely populated states like Wyoming, and often convince state lawmakers like Driskill that if they don’t do something to tighten the regulations, we too will be besieged by criminals intent on stealing elections.
Investigating charges that incredible instances of voter fraud were committed in the 2012 presidential battleground states of Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Virginia, the website Snopes.com concluded that all were patently false. A nationwide analysis of more than 2,000 cases of alleged election fraud done by News21, a Carnegie-Knight investigative journalism project, found in-person voter impersonation on Election Day was virtually nonexistent. The analysis of 2,068 reported fraud cases disclosed 10 cases of alleged in-person voter impersonation between 2000 and 2012. That represents about one for every 15 million prospective voters.
Take, for example, a widely distributed claim was that Barack Obama lost in all of the states where voter ID must be shown at the polls, and won in all states that did not require photo ID. This accusation clearly implies that this form of verification would have kept him from winning those four states – in other words, this line of argument would have you believe, he must have won those states by fraud.
It’s true that states with strict photo ID laws were carried by Republican Mitt Romney, but there were only four of them: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. In reality, Obama lost in 20 other states — including Wyoming — that did not require photo ID at the polls. The results of the 2012 election reflected very well the politics of all the states involved, right down to individual districts in the battleground. They did not reflect fraud.
Driskill ultimately pulled his voter ID bill when it became clear that it wouldn’t make it out of the Senate Elections, Corporations and Political Subdivisions Committee as written. The measure was strongly opposed by the Wyoming League of Women Voters, which argued that it would effectively disenfranchise segments of the population that do not use a government-issued photo ID in their daily lives, including the elderly, the disabled and low-income people.
Driskill told me he withdrew his bill because several county clerks expressed concern that it wouldn’t fully solve all of their voter problems. The senator said some of these county officials told him and other lawmakers about cases of voter fraud in the 2012 general election in Wyoming, but admitted that none of these claims has been substantiated.
Last summer, prior to the last election, Wyoming’s elections chief in the Secretary of State’s office, Peggy Nighswonger, said she could only recall two cases of attempted voter fraud during her 16 years on the job. Both of those individuals were tried and convicted.
Nighswonger added that in the event an election official questions a Wyoming voter’s eligibility, the person is given a provisional ballot. The county canvassing board then determines whether that person’s ballot can ultimately be counted.
Still, despite offering no evidence that Wyoming has a voter fraud problem, Driskill managed to get the voter ID issue approved as an interim committee topic for the Elections Committee, which will discuss it at 1:30 p.m. on May 28 at its meeting in Lander.
To be fair, Driskill also pointed out to me that after talking to county clerks, he is concerned there is a problem with people voting in the wrong districts. This could be either accidental or intentional, but the senator is right when he says that if true, the situation could impact the results in some close elections, potentially leading to an official being elected due to illegally cast votes.
But while the committee should address this issue, it’s a separate one from voter identification.There certainly doesn’t need to be a de facto poll tax enacted on some of the most vulnerable members of the electorate to make sure that people are voting in the right district.
At its recent state convention in Casper, the League of Women Voters adopted a resolution opposing any attempts to require either a photo ID or a birth certificate to be shown at the polls. The organization noted that numerous studies “have unequivocally demonstrated that voter impersonation fraud is exceedingly rare, and that legislation enacted to counter perceived fraud is an expensive solution in search of a problem.”
It is indeed. Hopefully, the interim committee will be convinced after hearing from all of the parties that Wyoming doesn’t need a voter ID law — not even to keep all those pesky motel guests from deciding our elections.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is the editor-in-chief of The Casper Citizen, a nonprofit, online community newspaper. It can be viewed at www.caspercitizen.com.
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