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 V.14 No.28 | July 14 - 20, 2005 

Ortiz y Pino

Voter ID is a Mole Hill, Not a Mountain

At this rate the October city election ballot could be as lengthy and complicated as the one that daunted voters in last year's general election. Not only will the usual array of multiple City Council and mayoral candidates be listed, along with a menu of municipal bond issues totaling over $120 million, but this year three controversial citizen referenda have been added to the ballot as well.

All of this means that there ought to be a premium placed on educating the voters so their decision-making will be grounded on something more substantial than slogans or bumper stickers.

Increasing the minimum wage, public financing of city elections and instituting photo identification requirements for voters are each complex matters that deserve careful consideration, not knee-jerk reactions.

But if the arguments put forward on the voter ID issue by its proponents on the City Council are any indication, careful consideration will be in short supply this fall and blind reflex or mindless prejudice will be super-abundant.

Simply put, the problem that has been used as the rationale for requiring the presentation of a photo identification card before being allowed to vote is a mole hill, not a mountain. Equally bothersome, there is no reason to believe that the ID requirement will do anything at all to correct that pimple of a dilemma.

Yet to hear Councilor Sally Mayer and Mayor Martin Chavez discuss the issue, you'd think we have before us the elusive Holy Grail itself, the missing link, the solution to all electoral mischief. Not.

There is some serious discussion afoot that city government cannot constitutionally change voting requirements to make them more restrictive than those described in state law. A court challenge to the measure, if one is filed and upheld, might wipe it out before the ballots get printed.

If it actually winds up on the voting machines, there are at least two excellent reasons for the electorate to dump this proposal. First, it is a solution in search of a problem. Second, it is a solution that disenfranchises a group of voters we should be protecting, not damaging.

Councilor Mayer said the reason she is proposing this measure is that a constituent told her that when she showed up to vote last year, the list of registered voters at her polling place indicated someone else had already signed next to her name and been allowed to vote, leaving Mayer's constituent unable to do so. (Or, more likely, to do so only by using the provisional ballot procedures that have been in place for several years.)

Mayer believes that requiring photo identification cards would prevent this from happening again. Of course it is more plausible that the signature entered erroneously on the list of registered voters was an honest mistake, a slipup on the part of a poll clerk and voter in which a signature had been entered on the wrong line in the book than it is that some elaborate skullduggery was being employed to steal a single vote.

No extra identification requirement can protect against that kind of error. And since photo identification cards can be easily counterfeited (check at any local high school for how this is accomplished), requiring one to be shown provides no more security than the new state requirement of correctly identifying the last four digits of the individual's social security number.

There are stiff penalties on the books already for engaging in voter fraud of the type over which Mayer expresses concern. To my knowledge it has been at least 10 years since anyone in New Mexico was prosecuted for such chicanery—if ever. And officials of all major political parties have certainly been on the lookout for such actions.

It just doesn't happen—or else we would be treated regularly to the spectacle of miscreants brought to justice. Any self-respecting U.S. attorney, district attorney or state attorney general who could dangle the perpetrator of voter fraud in front of the Scales of Justice would do so eagerly.

So if the problem is practically nonexistent, why is there such ardor to "solve" it?

That's simple to explain. Requiring photo identification before being allowed to vote will not hurt most voters. It's easy to do ... if you have a photo ID. Who doesn't?

The poor frequently don't. Many of the elderly don't. People who have never had a driver's license are unlikely to have one, so new, young voters might not. It could be estimated that probably less than 7-8 percent of eligible voters don't have photo IDs.

Of course that's precisely the group that most needs extra legal support to be able to exercise its franchise, not SUV drivers or Sandia Lab employees who can whip out mounds of identification on demand.

So, if you would rather not have homeless people, poor people and young people vote, the simple, straightforward step to take is to require photo ID. It won't stop fraud but it will sure cut into the Democrats' vote totals.

In the Deep South they employed a similar technique to make sure poor whites and almost all Blacks didn't vote. They charged a poll tax. Photo identification of voters does pretty much the same thing. The courts killed the poll tax. Albuquerque voters ought to kill a photo ID requirement.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. E-mail jerry@alibi.com.

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