Michigan voter ID requirements divide parties

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published September 11, 2012

Legislatures in several states, including Michigan, have garnered nationwide attention in recent months for passing, or attempting to pass, stricter voter identification requirements in order for citizens to legally cast ballots in November’s election.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures — a bipartisan organization that serves as a resource for state legislators — 31 states, including Michigan, have enacted laws that will require all voters to present a form of identification at the polls this November.

Michigan’s voter identification law — which was passed in 2007 — requires voters to show a form of photo identification prior to voting, but those without ID remain eligible to vote if they sign an affidavit.

In Michigan, if a voter does not possess a form of photo ID, he or she can sign an affidavit of identity verifying his or her identity and will still be eligible to vote. Some states, however, are eliminating the affidavit option.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder irked Republicans in July when he became the only GOP governor to veto a bill requiring stricter ID laws in the past two years. The bill he shot down would’ve required absentee voters to present a photo ID, a measure proposed by his fellow Republicans in the Michigan state Legislature. He also vetoed a proposal endorsed by Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that would require voters to check a box on their ballots stating they are U.S. citizens.

Proponents believe the laws are necessary to curb voter fraud when, for example, an individual votes multiple times, votes as someone else or votes despite knowing that he or she is ineligible.

Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Secretary of State, said the ID requirement has helped non-citizens confused by election laws avoid deportation by restricting them from breaking U.S. law by voting.

Woodhams referenced a Kalamazoo man who allegedly ran into difficulty obtaining U.S. citizenship because he illegally voted in the past. He cited such examples as part of the reasoning for the push for the citizenship question.

“Non-citizens who cast a ballot can face serious legal problems, including deportation,” Woodhams said. “At the very least it will cause problems if they ever decide to become naturalized citizens.”

He noted that the absentee law vetoed by Snyder would have made election laws more consistent.

“We know that there were some non-citizens that registered to vote, and these people may not be aware that they’re not legally able to cast a ballot in Michigan,” Woodhams said. “The (citizenship) check box is a simple way to make sure everyone is aware of what the state and federal laws are.”

Opponents of stricter voting laws, including Robert McCann, a spokesman for Michigan Senate Democrats, say stricter ID requirements will adversely disenfranchise minorities and the poor because they do not have the resources to obtain valid photo identification.

“The voter ID laws being pushed by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson and legislative Republicans are based solely on a political agenda, not some phony altruistic goal of fighting election fraud,” McCann wrote in a statement.

McCann added that he believes the laws would do little to combat voter fraud in the state.

“These laws are written and lobbied for by extreme special interest groups across the country who have no shame about taking away our most fundamental right to vote in order to fulfill their political agenda,” he wrote. “Thankfully court after court has ruled them unconstitutional along the way.”

However, Woodhams dismissed the notion that the laws would disenfranchise voters and said the citizenship box is a “very simple, easy to answer question.”

“It’s a simple yes or no question. People certainly know if they’re a United States citizen or not,” Woodhams said. “It’s not at all confusing to anyone. The only people that are affected by this are people who should not be voting.”

Twelve states have passed stricter identification laws since 2011 alone, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Pennsylvania’s Act 18 was recently thrust into the national spotlight for being considered by some organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, as especially harsh.

Under the law, Pennsylvania voters must present a valid driver’s license, military ID, college ID, a local or county government employee ID or a photo ID from a state health care facility. In addition, a valid ID must have an expiration date, a feature some universities do not include on their cards.

Pennsylvania’s law was challenged in court in August, but was ultimately upheld. It will be tried in front of the state’s Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institute at the New York University School of Law, reported that as much as 10 percent of the nation’s population does not have, and will not receive, the necessary documentation needed to vote under new, more restrictive laws, such as the Pennsylvania statute. In some minority groups, that percentage is believed to be even higher.

Additionally, News21, a student-journalism initiative at Arizona State University’s journalism school, released a study in August that found voter fraud investigations often find little evidence of actual fraud.

The study found just 10 incidents of voter impersonation, which indicates that fraud might occur once for every 15 million voters.

News21 did note, however, that absentee voter fraud is much more common than voter impersonation fraud. Among absentee ballots analyzed, 491 cases were identified as fraudulent.

Voter fraud and identification laws have become divisive issues in this year’s presidential election. LSA junior Alexandra Brill, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said the group believes it’s important that all citizens are able to cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice.

“We applaud Governor Snyder’s decision to veto this year’s repressive voter-ID laws in Michigan and fear that other states’ recent efforts to pass similar bills would prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote,” Brill said.

LSA junior Russ Hayes, the internal vice chair of the University's chapter of College Republicans, wrote in an e-mail interview that voter identification is an issue that transcends party politics. However, he noted many opponents fail to see the importance of stricter policies in ensuring legitimacy in the upcoming election.

"As evidenced by the Governor's veto of this summer's voter ID measure, people on both sides of the aisle have fair disagreements on a divisive issue," Hayes wrote. "What we do know is that you need a photo ID to drive, go through airport security, and get into Costco. To paint support for reasonable photo ID laws as support for voter suppression goes a little overboard — what it really is is concern about the integrity and validity of our elections."