Proposed voter ID law again draws hot debate in Annapolis

By Becca Heller

Del. Nic Kipke

Del. Nic Kipke

Republican legislators are back again, pushing controversial voter identification laws after failed attempts in prior years.

Sponsored by Republican Dels. Nic Kipke, Kathy Afzali and 32 other Republicans, but no Democrats, the contentious bill sparked heated debate last week in the House Ways & Means Committee.

HB 137 is a very familiar subject to many of us in this room,” Kipke told the committee. “I think most of us have differing views, but I believe requiring proof of identity on election day is a good thing for our election integrity.”

Kipke, Afzali and others supporting voter ID laws view the initiative as a solution to what they see as the widespread problem of voter fraud, which Democrats insist is rare.

Proving Voter Fraud

The first and only witness brought in to testify in support of voter ID, Cathy Kelleher of Election Integrity Maryland, stood before the committee to share her organization’s discoveries of the threat of voting fraud.

“Of 36,000 voter registrations researched, 11,000 challenges identifying irregularities in the registrations were documented at both state and local levels of the Board of Elections,” Kelleher said. “All our research points to one thing. Efforts to protect the integrity of the vote in Maryland are failing.”

Cathy Kelleher

Cathy Kelleher

Some committee members were skeptical of her data. Del. Kumar Barve, the House majority leader, pushed her to define the term “irregularity,” which seemed to include registrations with minor misspellings in a person’s address or name.

“You threw out the number of 11,000 and I’m willing to bet you we could account for every one of those things with a logical explanation and in none of those instances is there an instance, I’ll bet, where there is actual voter fraud,” said Barve, D-Montgomery.

Practically speaking

Voting fraud aside, Kipke and Afzali feel that voter ID would simplify and expedite the voting process. They mentioned using the barcode on a person’s license to check them in at the polls — a process that would transcend language barriers, cut down on paper usage, and decrease lines at the polls.

But others argue that requiring identification to vote is unfair to those who do not have, and may be unable to obtain an ID. These people would primarily fall into already marginalized minority groups such as the young and inexperienced, the very old, and the poor.

“I think that the large majority of people in this country have voter ID,” said Kelleher. “Just to get on an airplane you need photo ID. To get a train ticket you need ID. It’s just beyond my ability to comprehend where this big problem with getting ID is.”

The problems with getting ID

Maryland drivers license sample.Advocates from Maryland Alliance for the Poor and Health Care for the Homeless took the witness stand.To shed light on the difficulties people face when trying to acquire an ID,

“In order to get a state ID … you need to have a birth certificate and a Social Security card,”  explained Adam Schneider, from Health Care for the Homeless. “The challenge is that in order to get a birth certificate you need to have an ID. And in order to get a Social Security card, you have to have a medical record. Getting a medical record often requires you to have insurance, and in order to get insurance you need to have an ID.”

Schneider explained that this process was even more difficult for people who lacked a means of transportation or money, and for those who did not have a home or a place to keep any of their documents.

Tony’s story

Del. Kathy Afzali

Del. Kathy Afzali

Schneider told of a time where he accompanied a homeless client named Tony to the Motor Vehicle Administration to help him get his license.

When Schneider mentioned that Tony voted, Afzali questioned his access to get the information he’d need to cast an informed vote.

“Even though he doesn’t have an address, even though he lost his identification, he was still able to get newspapers, he would still have conversations and gather information just the way we all do,” Schneider responded. “Just because he didn’t have a home and lived in a tent didn’t mean that he wasn’t interested in the process or wasn’t educated about what was going on.”

“I find that questionable,” Afzali replied. “I’m not quite sure how Tony would get the information a voter would need in order to cast an educated vote if he’s moving from place to place…at any rate so you’re saying that Tony votes. Where …”

“Tony died,” Adam interrupted. “But he did vote, yes, and there are many people who receive services at Health Care for the Homeless who do vote.”

The educated vote

Another witness testifying in the panel, was a homeless man who had been adopted and faced challenges getting an ID due to the fact that he did not have a birth certificate. He had spent much of his life in foster homes and eventually ended up in California working with kids on the streets to decrease gang violence.

“I was appalled to hear someone suggest that because we don’t have IDs that we’re not intelligent enough or that we’re too ignorant to vote on issues and politicians that we know a lot about,” said the witness. “A lot of people on the streets know a lot more about politicians than the people who don’t because they deal with policies that affect us daily.”

Also testifying before the committee were two U.S. veterans who had experienced homelessness and the challenges of acquiring identification. The men had created a coalition with the aim of helping other homeless veterans like themselves get the services they need and get registered to vote.

The homeless people he works with “do want to vote,” said Sean-Christopher Riley. “They want to participate in the elections because in order to get our voices heard we need to have representatives to represent ourselves and our needs.”

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.


  1. Edroch

    If it is important enough to you, you will find a way to get ID and vote.

  2. Tim Ray

    look, Mexico to Iraq require voter I.D. will someone please display some rational and logical process here….

  3. Dale McNamee

    The MVA issues non-drivers’ photo ID’s and the fee doesn’t appear to be excessive… If the advocates of the ” affected constituencies ” can’t figure out how to raise the funds needed and how to get them to photo ID offices…
    I guess the integrity of the voting process doesn’t matter to these folks…

  4. Gerard

    Buy cigarettes need an ID, Buy alcohol need an ID, borrow a
    book from the library need an ID, enter a state building need an ID, enter a
    federal building need an ID. Vote No ID needed.

    Maybe the legislature should
    consider using O’Malley’s proposed requirements to buy a rifle and apply them to
    voting: ID, Classes, Mental evaluation and $100 Fee.

  5. racerman

    Voter fraud does exist. If you do not think it does just check ou the Md District One house candidate Wendy Rosen who on at least two occasions voted in both Florida and MD. Voter I D didnt prevent this, but everything helps. Our elections are to important to not at least try to do what we can to prevent fraud.

    • Pressed Rat and Warthog

      That’s part of the problem with voter ID. It doesn’t actually prevent the types of fraud that occur most frequently. It costs money and it doesn’t do any real good while at the same time prevents people who have a right to vote from doing so.

      Voter ID
      1. Costs money
      2. Does not prevent most types of fraud
      3. Does prevent people entitled to vote from voting

      Three strikes and you are out.

      • Edroch

        So your answer is do nothing.

        • Bill

          while we are at it, lets change electoral votes from winner take all to percantage. Lets let parties other than Democrats count in Presidentual elections.

  6. DaveProLiberty

    It is just simply politics as usual to deny progress on voter integrity. I commend Del. Kipke and other Delegate leaders who are trying to make this common sense change for integrity of elections. We can argue all day long how pervasive it might be with no avail, but election fraud is a fact. Probably vote suppression is true, too. I am confident that citizens will demand justice against voter suppression, too, but this is about voter fraud. Our elected officials must this problem. If they will not, it proves the lack of integrity of those holding office, because I cannot think of a greater injustice than to steal people’s voice with election fraud tactics. There are easy solutions to the small fraction of legitimate situations where a person does not have identification.

  7. CAMouery

    I believe EVERYONE that casts a vote should be required to show a picture ID. We have to show our ID for many things not as critical as voting.

    • Pressed Rat and Warthog

      OK, now how are you going to make sure EVERYONE can get a picture ID? People living in nursing homes. The handicapped. The homeless. People born at home who don’t have birth certificates. People who are illiterate. People who don’t drive. Students. etc. etc. etc.

      This is the problem with these laws. Voting is the sacred process by which people give their consent to be governed. If you interfere with that you remove the legitimacy of our system of laws. If you are going to establish a criteria it must be something that can be met by all eligible to vote.

      The Founders signed the Declaration which contains these immortal words:

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

      CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED. If you deny these people their vote you do not have consent. It is the most fundamental underpinning to our society that we have had for 250 years.

      These laws tamper with the very basis of America. You are interfering with rights endowed by the Creator.

      • abby_adams

        Picture IDs are widely available & in many cases FREE. Those born at home have, at some time in their lifetime, been registered at/with a local, state or federal agency. Ditto for the handicapped to receive state services as well as students at schools & colleges who provide photo IDs. The argument is nothing but a talking point that negates the widespread use of photo IDs in daily life.
        As for voting rights, they are insured by the US Constitution NOT the Declaration of Independence. Those rights also include responsibilities also stated by the Creator. If a person must have a photo ID to bank, get a discount MTA pass or purchase Sudafed at Giant, why is it such a burden to ask for photo ID when one casts their vote?

        • Pressed Rat and Warthog

          The idea that everyone has free and easy access to picture IDs has widely been proven to be false. It isn’t necessary to argue it.

          Going to the bank, getting an MTA pass or buying Sudafed are NOT Inalienable Rights granted to us by the Creator. The standard for requiring ID for these activities is not in anyway as high.

          This country has run just fine for 250 years without requiring IDs to vote. If you are going to do it you REALLY need to make sure that EVERYONE can get an ID, at no cost.

          That has NOT been done.

          • abby_adams

            As I stated earlier, inalienable rights granted (but not guaranteed) us by our Creator are mentioned in the Dec of Independence. Our rights are stated in the US Constitution & Bill of Rights. As for giving every US citizen of voting age a photo ID card at no cost is a bogus argument. Nothing is free as some entity must assume the cost of materials & processing. Heck you can’t get a birth or death certificate for free, yet you argue that everyone MUST be issued a photo ID?