Delegates debate requiring photo ID to vote

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By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Requiring voters to show identification in order to vote is a necessary and easy way to prevent voter fraud, Del. Kathy Afzali told her colleagues on the Ways and Means Committee, but other delegates and voter advocates argued that the requirement would prevent people from voting.

Afzali, a freshman Frederick County Republican, has proposed a bill that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID to verify their identity and address in order to cast a ballot. Voters who do not have photo ID, or who have moved and have a different address than the one on their ID, would be allowed to cast provisional ballots.

Del. Kathy Afzali

Del. Kathy Afzali

Currently, in order to vote, registered voters must verify residency and identifying information with a poll worker, and sign their names.

This measure, Afzali said, would halt any attempts at voter fraud. People could not pretend to be someone else at the voting booth, casting ballots for voters who have died or moved. People also would not be able to register to vote in two counties and cast ballots in both of them.

She argued that people are required to show photo ID in order to board an airplane, pay for purchases with a check, and get certain over-the-counter medications from a pharmacy. Voting is just as important, and should be treated as such. Besides, she argued, every other aspect of voting – from machines to paper ballots – is closely protected.

“Requiring voters to identify themselves at the polling place is part and parcel of the process,” Afzali said. “Every illegal vote steals the vote of a legitimate voter.”

She said that there is no evidence or allegation in widespread voting fraud in Maryland, but she is sure it exists. Right now, the government has no easy way to track it.

Afzali also debunked a common criticism of voter ID laws: that people don’t always have photo identification and are turned away from voting. To back up her argument, Afzali presented several studies and statistics about the issue. Indiana and Georgia have both passed voter ID laws in the last decade, and studies showed that voter turnout and participation improved during the 2008 election, which was the first presidential election with the laws in place.

But some of Afzali’s fellow delegates, as well as election officials at the meeting to testify on the bill, did not agree with her arguments. Del. Frank Turner said that the 2008 presidential election in and of itself boosted voter turnout.

“The turnout went up because of President Obama. Not because of IDs,” Turner said.

Afzali replied that while that may be the case, the overriding criticism of this kind of legislation is that it disenfranchises minority voters. And if turnout increased for all demographics, even with a law requiring voters to show IDs, then the argument does not hold up.

Montgomery County attorney and voter advocate Jonathan Shurberg, who spoke on several election-related bills at Tuesday’s hearing, voter IDs are an extremely partisan issue. Shurberg told delegates if he’d had more time to prepare he could have found studies that showed the opposite of Afzali’s presentation, and indicated voter IDs hurt voter turnout.

“Voter ID laws are, as far as I’m concerned, voter suppression laws,” Shurberg said.

Shurberg was not alone in his opposition to the bill. Maryland League of Women Voters President Nancy Soreng said that the voting system already has enough protection against fraud, and this bill would be burdensome and discriminatory toward voters.

However, Frederick County Election Director Stuart Harvey supports the bill. He said that voters often ask why they don’t need to show IDs at the polls, and he did not think that it would burden voters.

Del. Nicholaus Kipke, R-Anne Arundel County, said his grandmother always bothers him about the fact that she doesn’t have to show an ID when she goes to vote. His bill, inspired by his grandmother, gives voters the option of showing their IDs when they go to vote.  When registering to vote, people would indicate if they want to be asked for their IDs at the polls.

Delegates and witnesses objected to Kipke’s bill, saying that it would create confusion at the polls. Del. Anne Kaiser, D-Montgomery County, brought discussion back to Kipke’s grandmother.

“You seem like a very good grandson,” Kaiser said. “What if we amend it so just she will have to show her ID?”