The Norman Transcript

February 27, 2009

Senate awaits voter ID bill

By M. Scott Carter

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A proposal that would require voters to show "proof of identity" before casting their ballots has cleared a legislative committee and is expected to be heard by the full state Senate next week.

But not every lawmaker is thrilled with the proposal.

Senate Bill 4, by Bartlesville Republican John Ford, would require voters to provide documents that include the voter's name and picture prior to voting in an election. Ford's bill also requires the identification be issued by the United States, the State of Oklahoma or a federally recognized Indian Tribe or Nation. Individuals who do not have any recognized form of identification may show their county-issued Voter ID card.

Ford said the use of photo identification is prevalent today and, therefore, should be required in voting.

"Valid identification is required in our daily activities, such as writing a check, boarding a plane or even getting a library card in some states," he said. "So when it comes to voters deciding who will run our state and our nation and what laws will govern our citizens, it is prudent to verify the identification of voters at the polls.

However, state Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, said Ford and other Republican legislators are using the bill to try to reduce access to the ballot box.

"The GOP are methodically and systematically reducing access for voters," he said. "This year they've killed bills such as same day voting-registration and bills to extend the state's early voting period. The Republicans didn't want non-traditional voters -- such as those people with jobs at night -- going to the polls. They are torpedoing these things."

Sparks also questioned Ford's claim that Senate Bill 4 was necessary because of "many fraudulent registrations" which happened during last fall's election. "There is no evidence anywhere in the state of people using fraudulent identification to vote," he said. "It's not there."

In a media release about his bill, Ford said state lawmakers "heard of the many fraudulent (voter) registrations being conducted. It is critical that we prevent this from happening in our state."

But in Cleveland County, election board officials confirmed there have been no instances of voter fraud in the past four years.

"We've had a couple of people who voted twice and we turned that over the district attorney," said county Election Board Secretary Paula Roberts. "But we have had no instances of voter fraud or of people using false identification to vote."

Earlier this month, the GOP-controlled state Senate pushed Ford's bill through the Senate Rules committee on a 10-5, party-line vote. Following the vote, Ford told the Associated Press lawmakers had "the right and responsibility" to "make sure every vote that is cast is a legitimate vote."

Republicans in the House said they expected the measure to "get a good hearing" and, eventually, end up on the governor's desk.

"There have been many voting irregularities in the past," said Moore Republican Paul Wesselhoft. "And this bill would help prevent that."

Wesselhoft, who said he carries photo identification cards for his military membership, driver's license, tribal affiliation and as a member of the state legislature, said photo identification is "just part of the world we live in."

"I don't think this bill is onerous," he said. "And unless someone can show me how it disenfranchises people I support it. But if someone can show me how it will prevent people from voting, then I'll change."

The bill is awaiting action by the full Senate.

M. Scott Carter 366-3545 scarter@normantranscript.com