Our View: Photo voter ID unnecessary

December 11, 2012 

Photo voter ID

Rep. Lynn's bill is a solution\ in search of a problem

One. That's the number of cases of voter fraud in Alaska that elections director Gail Fenumiai could recall.

Eighty-six. That's the number of voter fraud convictions that the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush found in a review that covered 300 million votes cast from 2002 to 2007. That's a fraud rate of .00003 percent, or 3 in 10 million.

So just why does Alaska need to impose a photo ID requirement on voting?

There is no good reason.

Like 29 other states, Alaska already has a voter ID law on the books. Alaska is one of 16 states that require proof of identification, but allow non-photo IDs to suffice -- including our new plastic voter registration cards.

Alaska also allows an elections worker to waive the ID requirement if the worker knows the voter. That makes sense in a state with a small population, especially in Alaska's Bush communities.

Our voter ID law has sufficed to keep our elections honest.

Adding a photo ID requirement will put on extra burden on those voters who live in remote parts of the state, where common sense already waives photo requirements for ID like driver's licenses, and on others who may not have photo ID.

Rep. Bob Lynn said a new version of a photo voter ID law he first introduced in 2011 is in the works. He describes it as a prudent precaution against voter fraud.

That argument doesn't wash. Look at the numbers. Voter fraud is so rare our elections director can think of only one case -- and that man wouldn't have been caught by Lynn's original bill. That same elections director said she hasn't requested any changes and that the current system works well.

The photo drive among the states has gained momentum since 2006 and is almost completely the work of Republican-dominated legislatures, who figure that Republicans stand to gain by more restrictive voting requirements, which tend to cut voting among minorities and the elderly. Rural Alaska, where the new law would make the biggest difference, tends to vote Democratic.

This is more politics than prudence.

States clearly have the right to impose reasonable ID requirements for voters. Courts have been mixed in their rulings on specific voter laws in states and even smaller jurisdictions. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana's strict photo voter ID law, but state and federal courts, even with that precedent, have delayed or blocked implementation of other voter ID laws for various causes, including undue burdens or impediments to voting.

Even if the Alaska Legislature passed such a bill and the governor signed it, new rules wouldn't have the force of law unless the U.S. Department of Justice signed off on them. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Alaska is one of the states required to gain federal approval before applying any change in its election laws. That's because of past discrimination, especially against Native voters.

That requirement -- which is under review next year by the U.S. Supreme Court -- would be the source of even more political posturing.

Alaska's voter ID law works fine as is. Lawmakers should spend their limited time on work that matters.

BOTTOM LINE: Photo voter ID is unnecessary at best, a bid to tilt elections at worst.

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