ID system may not make the vote

Identification plan draws mixed reviews despite outcry for poll reform

Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh sometimes laughs at all the places he’s asked to show photo identification of himself. But he’s not laughing about the one place it is not asked for – the voting booth.

“I have to show identification to get a Disney movie for my kids,” said Thornburgh, the state’s top elections official. “I understand the reasons for that. But I don’t understand why we shouldn’t have that same requirement to participate in our single most important right in America. A fundamental principle of elections is knowing that who you say you are is actually who you are.”

Former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker agree. They led a 21-member bipartisan commission looking at ways to reform the country’s elections. Among the recommendations it made late last month was that Congress require all voters show a photo I.D. before receiving a ballot.

To some, the report read too much like “1984,” the George Orwell novel of “Big Brother” government pervasive in people’s private lives. They see the photo I.D. requirement as first step toward a national identification card that somehow could be used to track American citizens.

“There are already so many Orwellian things happening today,” said Bev Worster – a rural Lawrence resident and a longtime Douglas County poll worker who has been following voter reform proposals. “The Patriot Act makes you feel like your privacy is being taken away from you, so I can understand why people are nervous.”

Thornburgh also said he’s not a fan of a national photo I.D. system because he’s concerned about potential problems if the system were ever hacked.

Thornburgh said a safer system would be for states, not the federal government, to create voter identification systems. Thornburgh in past legislative sessions has unsuccessfully championed state legislation that would require more in terms of voter identification.

Some election officials, though, aren’t comfortable with the identification issue regardless who runs the system. Jamie Shew, the Douglas County clerk, said he’s afraid the whole idea will turn some voters off.

“We already have low voter participation in our country,” Shew said. “If you put one more barrier up, it may cause some people to say, ‘I’m not going to go through the hassle.'”

Others are worried about who may be hurt by the identification requirement.

“It will hurt people who don’t have driver’s licenses,” Worster said. “It will affect people in urban areas. It will affect people who don’t own cars. Those are the same people who have been harmed during past elections. It is tough to find a remedy. That’s why I’m a bit up in the air about all of this.”

Thornburgh said he thought some concerns about disenfranchising potential voters were unfounded.

“I’m not sure I buy that,” Thornburgh said. “I don’t know how you function without identification in today’s society. I would need to see some hard facts before I start believing that.”

The Carter-Baker report estimates 12 percent of eligible voters do not have a driver’s license. Those individuals would be given a free voter identification card.

Any of the recommendations in the Carter-Baker report would need congressional approval to be implemented. Other recommendations include requiring all electronic voting machines have a paper audit trail and guidelines for states to develop accurate and up-to-date voter registration rolls.

Worster said she hoped the one recommendation about a voter I.D. card didn’t overshadow the rest of the report because she said many people have questioned the system since the controversial Bush-Gore presidential election of 2000.

“I absolutely believe we need to reform the voter system,” Worster said. “We are the world’s model for democracy. If our system is at all in question, how can we ever expect someone else to adopt our form of government? Whether it is true or not, there are people who feel our elections are not fair.”