Voter fraud is an unavoidable evil in a democracy. You can mitigate it, but you can never get rid of it completely. Toughen laws, and at least some vote-thieves will still find a way around them.
That’s the one thing both proponents and opponents of Albuquerque’s voter ID law can agree on. Beyond that, the two sides differ considerably--and that’s putting it mildly. The ACLU filed a lawsuit last November, requesting that a federal court deem the Duke City law “unconstitutional, illegal, null and void,” since they claim it creates different rules for poll voters and absentee voters and is biased against the poor and homeless. That case is now in its final days, and we may well know the outcome before election time.
It all started with an upset voter, who back in the 2004 election showed up at the polls only to find out someone else had fraudulently cast her ballot. Word got back to City Councilor Sally Mayer, and she took action.
“There was no way to go back and fix that. So I thought this was such an easy solution: Just show your ID,” says Mayer. She proposed the Voter ID Amendment, which would require voters to show a photo ID at the polls or, if voters were without an ID, to go ahead and vote and return with an ID within 10 days. Even if voters don't have a photo ID, Mayer says, they can ask the City Clerk to issue one by bringing in other forms of identification, such as paychecks, bank statements, utility bills, Social Security cards or library cards.
Last fall, the Albuquerque Journal published a poll completed by Research & Polling, Inc., which found that 81 percent of voters favored the measure. Little wonder, then, that Mayer didn’t anticipate her “easy solution” would result in a lawsuit. The ACLU and concerned voter Barbara Grothus are the plaintiffs in the case; City Clerk Judy Chavez is the defendant.
“If you want to commit voter fraud, you can do it in Albuquerque,” says Alibi columnist Jim Scarantino, an attorney working with the ACLU on the case. He says the same rules should apply to absentee voters--who aren't required to show ID with the law--as to those who show up at the polls. What’s more, he says, many poor and homeless voters don’t have the necessary ID or paperwork, and under the new law, they’re ineligible to vote.
City Councilor Michael Cadigan proposed another bill, which was rejected last fall, that would have required absentee voters to send in photocopies of their ID or the last four digits of their Social Security number with their ballots. But Cadigan acknowledges such a plan still isn’t foolproof. According to both Scarantino and Mayer, a father who knows his daughter’s Social Security number, for example, could vote in her place. Voting frauds would undoubtedly find other avenues as well.
Mayer sees her amendment as a logical first step to preventing voter fraud. As for the ACLU case, she sees it as a matter of misplaced efforts.
“I don’t get their motivations. If [the ACLU is] trying to tighten absentee voting, let them bring us proposals. I’ve said that publicly. I am a little surprised and confused about what they’re trying to accomplish with this lawsuit.”