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More Midwestern states will require photo ID at polls in 2012

by Kate Tormey ~ July/August 2011 ~ Stateline Midwest
Starting next year, roughly half of Midwestern states will require voters to show photo identification at the polls — a shift in state policy seen either as a tool for preventing election fraud or as an instrument of voter suppression.
Under the federal Help America Vote Act, states must require voters who register by mail without providing proof of identity to show ID before voting for the first time. The identification can either be a photo (such as a driver’s license) or a nonphoto (such as a utility bill) as long as it includes a valid name and address.
Beyond those federal rules, states can set their own standards. As of mid-2011, 25 states require only first-time voters to show either photo or nonphoto ID, according to Pew Center on the States’ Election Initiatives.
Eighteen U.S. states, including North Dakota and Ohio, go a bit further by requiring nonphoto or photo ID for all voters. (In North Dakota, people without the proper ID can vote if a poll worker can vouch for their identity.)
Indiana, Michigan and South Dakota are among the seven U.S. states that, entering this legislative year, already required individuals to show photo ID each time they voted. Generally, under these laws, people without ID are able to cast provisional ballots but must prove their identity within a certain period of time in order to make their ballots count.
The number of states with these photo-ID requirements is on the rise, in part because of a legislative push this year across the Midwest.
Status of laws, bills in Midwest
South Dakota, through legislation passed in 2003, was the first Midwestern state to enforce a law asking voters to show photo ID at the polls. Michigan’s law was first passed in 1996, but was not enforced due to constitutional concerns. In 2007, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutional, and it has since been enforced.
Neither Michigan nor South Dakota has what are considered “strict” photo-ID laws because both states allow voters to sign an affidavit and cast a regular ballot.
Indiana, however, requires all voters to show proper photo ID and does not offer them the option of signing an affidavit at the polling place. They instead cast a provisional ballot. These voters then have 10 days to visit their local election board and prove their identity. Indigent voters and those with religious objections to being photographed can sign an affidavit to this effect and have their vote counted.
Indiana’s voter-ID legislation, first passed in 2005, was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
Beginning next year, Kansas and Wisconsin will be added to the list of those states that require photo ID at the polls.
Opponents say that such laws disenfranchise voters such as the elderly, students and the poor — groups that are less likely to have photo ID. They add that fraudulent ballots account for a small percentage of votes in most elections.
Proponents of voter-ID bills say the practice ensures election integrity by preventing fraud, such as people voting more than once.
Under Kansas HB 2067, signed into law in April, voters will need to show photo ID beginning in 2012. In May, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed AB 7, which requires people to show photo ID at the polls each time they vote. While the law directs poll workers to begin asking for photo ID immediately, voters will not be required to show such documentation until after Jan. 1.
Kansas and Wisconsin voters without proper ID will be able to cast a provisional ballot on election day and must later present proof of identity in order for their ballots to be valid.
The Wisconsin legislation also makes several other changes to state election laws, including extending the period during which voters must have lived at their current addresses (from 10 to 28 days).
Minnesota legislators passed a photo-ID bill as well this year, but it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. In his veto message for SF 509, Dayton expressed concern over adding barriers to voting and the bill’s lack of bipartisan support.
He also wrote that the bill did nothing to address a voting issue often cited by proponents of voter-ID legislation: felons voting illegally. He added that the bill represented a $23 million “unfunded mandate” on local units of government, which would have been tasked with enforcing the law.
Lawmakers in at least three other Midwestern states — Illinois (HB 3058 and SB 2035), Iowa (HF 95) and Nebraska (LB 239) — considered legislation this year that would have put in place new photo-ID requirements. None of the bills passed.
Ohio’s HB 159 would require voters to show one of four forms of government-issued photo ID; individuals without photo ID would be eligible to receive a free state ID card every four years. The bill was approved by the House in March and, as of early July, was being considered in the Senate.