State Question 746: Voter ID measure on November ballot

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 19-Aug-2010

NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles on Oklahoma’s statewide measures. CapitolBeatOK will be examining all the state questions on the November ballot. Pat McGuigan is the author of “The Politics of Direct Democracy: Case Studies in Popular Decision Making.” He was a featured speaker at this year’s Global Forum on Direct Democracy.

When Oklahomans consider State Question 746 on the November ballot, they will decide if voters should have to present proof of identity before casting a ballot in future elections.

Voter ID legislation has been filed several times in recent years and even made it through the Oklahoma House of Representatives, but the state Senate proved a tougher sell for the measure before Republicans won outright control of that chamber in November 2008.

For example, during the 2008 session, one Voter ID measure gained House approval only to fail by a single vote in the state Senate. The Senate vote was 24-23, breaking down along party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. (A measure has to receive 25 votes in the Senate to pass.)

Supporters of a voter identification law argued it would prevent voter fraud that effectively disenfranchises legitimate votes cast by Oklahoma citizens.

Opponents argued identification requirements could disenfranchise some voters, particularly the poor and elderly, who do not always have a driver’s license and could possibly be prevented from voting as a result.

State Rep. Anastasia Pittman, an Oklahoma City Democrat, cited figures indicating approximately 11 million eligible voters in the U.S. don’t have a photo ID – including 10 percent of people with disabilities, 18 percent of seniors and 25 percent of African-Americans. Based on those figures, she said up to 78,000 Oklahomans over 18 do not have a photo ID, and predicted the law would disproportionately affect the elderly, the poor and the disabled.

However, since 2003 Oklahoma law has required first-time voters who registered by mail to show an ID in federal elections, and Voter ID supporters noted that law had not generated any complaints or lawsuits.

In the 2008 election, Republicans increased their majority in the House of Representatives and won outright control of the Senate for the first time in history, increasing legislative support for a Voter ID law.

Other factors added momentum to the effort, including election fraud concerns raised during the 2008 presidential election. Most prominently, ACORN, a liberal activist group that registered millions of voters across the country, had become embroiled in fraud allegations and was the subject of a resulting FBI investigation.

ACORN employees were accused of submitting false voter registration forms – including forms signed “Mickey Mouse” and several in Nevada listing Dallas Cowboys players’ names, though none of the players live in the state. One Nevada ACORN worker was allegedly caught filling out voter registration forms using names and addresses copied out of the telephone book. The group was involved in at least one state Senate election here in Oklahoma.

In addition, former Federal Election Commissioner Hans von Spakovsky spoke out in favor of Voter ID laws in a Wall Street Journal column, noting the states of Georgia and Indiana saw record numbers of Democrats vote in 2008 despite having some of the nation’s toughest Voter ID laws.

Most importantly, in April 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Voter ID laws when it ruled in favor of an Indiana statute in a 6-3 decision. Justice John Paul Stevens said in a majority opinion that the desire to halt voter fraud outweighed underlying political issues with requiring voter identification at the polls.

“The state interests identified as justifications for [the Indiana law] are both neutral and sufficiently strong to require us to reject” the lawsuit, he wrote. The opinion carried some persuasive force with analysts and policymakers due to Stevens’ long tenure as one of the High Court’s more liberal jurists.

That growing momentum and Republicans’ increased clout in the Legislature benefited Voter ID bills.

By April 2009, a Voter ID measure (Senate Bill 4) won approval in both the state House and Senate and was sent to Gov. Brad Henry.

Although it had passed the House with support from a handful of Democrats, the governor sided with critics of the law and vetoed it.

Lawmakers then passed Senate Bill 692, which sent the issue to the ballot, giving Oklahomans the chance to decide the issue for themselves. S.B. 692 passed the House on a bipartisan vote of 69-30, although its Senate passage was by a far narrower and more partisan vote of 25-21.

If voters approve State Question 746, the new law would require voters to show photo identification issued by a state, federal or tribal government prior to casting a ballot. The law allows for voters to show a free voter identification card issued by a citizen’s county election board. And if a voter cannot present proof of identity, he or she would still be allowed to vote by provisional ballot after signing a statement under oath swearing to his or her identity.