I. In Focus This Week
States prepare to implement voter photo ID
2014 primaries mark first large-scale implementation in several states
While there are times that it may seem like we have been talking about voter ID forever, the number of states that have strict photo ID requirements to cast a ballot is still relatively low.
Currently 34 states require some form of ID in order to cast a ballot, but only eight states are strict photo ID states.
Strict photo ID states, as defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) are those states where, “[v]oters without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted.”
Two of those strict photo ID states are implementing photo ID requirements on a large-scale basis for the first time this year during their primaries: Mississippi and Arkansas.
A third state, Alabama, is also introducing photo ID statewide during the June 3 primary, but NCSL does not list Alabama as a strict photo ID state because there is an alternative: “Some might call Alabama’s law a strict photo identification law, because voters who don’t show a photo ID will generally be asked to cast a provisional ballot and then must bring the required ID to an election office by 5 p.m. on Friday after Election Day. However, there is an alternative: two election officials can sign sworn statements saying they know the voter.”
Officials in all three states have spent months preparing poll workers and educating voters about the upcoming implementation.
The site includes information on what types of ID are acceptable, where ID can be obtained and where the state’s mobile ID unit will be each day.
Frank Barger, Madison County elections administrator said the secretary of state’s office has done a fairly good job of getting the word out about the new law, and that the county’s Board of Registrars has worked hard to make sure voters have the necessary ID.
But of course there is still work to be done in the coming weeks.
“We will send out information to our local Madison County press,” Barger said. “And we’ve made sure that all the information is on our website.”
In addition to educating the public, training the poll workers will also be key to a successful election, Barger said. He noted that the training process has changed to accommodate the new law, but that his team is working to make sure the elections workers are well informed.
“I don’t really foresee any major issues on June 3,” Barger said. “Generally speaking there has always been some sort of ID requirement.”
Arkansas is the first of the three states to head to the polls on May 20.
Jennifer Price, with the Washington County election commission said they have talked with the newspaper, TV media and worked with the League of Women Voter's to spread the word.
Price noted that Arkansas law had required poll workers to ask for ID during previous elections although voters were not required to show the ID so they have been able to use that past elections for training.
“I think it should go smoothly,” Price said.
Jerry Huff, elections coordinater in Sebastian County agreed with Price that he believes overall there won’t be many problems with people’s ability to show ID, but he is worried about how the new law will affect the overall election day process and subsequent tallying time.
“There have been very few voter ID problems in the past so we do not anticipate much will change. However, with the new voter ID law, it will slow down the process since each voter must state his name, address and date of birth -- then he or she is asked to show an approved photo ID,” Huff said. “If the voter cannot produce an approved ID, he or she must vote a provisional ballot. The voter then has six days to produce an approved photo id, which will delay the final vote tally.”
While the local elections officials in Arkansas seem prepared for official implementation, there are two looming lawsuits — one dealing with absentee voter ID and another with the overall law — that could throw a kink in the works.
“Our training has focused only on the law, not what a court will rule,” Huff said. “However, once a ruling comes down, we will have to figure out how to do more training.”
In Mississippi, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann has been making the rounds to counties to make sure that preparations for implementation of voter photo ID are progressing for the June 3 primary.
The state was even awarded two national advertising awards for the voter education commercials about the law.
“Mississippi has received two national awards for a voting campaign,” Hosemann said in a statement. “Regardless of your views and opinions on voter ID, our goal was to educate and engage all citizens of our state in a light-hearted and entertaining way. Our state has now been recognized nationally for our efforts.”
In addition to the commercials, the state also has a website dedicated to the implementation of voter ID. The site includes information about who needs an ID and why as well as where to get IDs. While Mississippi doesn’t have a mobile unit providing IDs, the state provides a phone number to put voters in touch with transportation providers that will provide free rides to those in need.
At the county level, the state has provided counties with pamphlets featuring frequently asked questions about the new law as well informational signage for election day.
“I have a public announcement airing on local radio stations which I hope helps to make the voters aware that voter ID will be in effect for the June 3 primary,” said Connie Ladner, deputy circuit clerk in Harrison County. “[It] also directs them to a site and/or phone number to call to obtain more information on voter ID so that they will be prepared to present an ID on election day.”
Ladner said that while there has been some additional work because of the new law, it hasn’t really added to the overall workload typically faced in preparation for a primary. She also said there have been no added costs for her office.
“As far as how the primary will go, we are hoping that it will be a smooth transition, but realistically know that we will have some issues on election day,” Ladner said. “Poll worker training will be the key to a successful election. And, no voter will be denied the right to vote.”
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