By Jim Bennett
Alabama Secretary of State
When voters go to the polls during the June 3 party primaries, there will be a different look to the process. Poll workers will be looking for photo IDs required under a new set of rules approved by the Alabama Legislature.
Alabama will be joining 15 other states—including Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi—in requiring voter photo IDs—as an added tool to combat possible voter fraud. Thirty-one states require voters to show some type of identification, several with a long list of identifiers.
Alabama had 24 possible choices dating back to 2003 including everything from a fishing license to a utility bill. Legislators in 2011 thought that did not go far enough and opted for the stricter photo ID only.
So when voters go to the polls June 3, they must present one of these forms of photo identification: an Alabama driver’s license, an Alabama non-driver ID, a photo ID issued by any agency of the local, state or federal government, a state-issued ID from another state, a U.S. passport, a student or employee ID from a public or private college or university in Alabama including postgraduate technical or professional schools, a military ID or a tribal card with photo. In each case, the photo ID must be valid. However, under state law, an expired driver’s license has a grace period of 60 days.
In addition, the state has issued more than 1,850 free photo voter ID cards for persons having none of the above mentioned identifications. These were made at 92 mobile site visits around the state and in the various local Boards of Registrars offices in each county. The free photo voter ID cards can be issued through Election Day and after. Also, the Department of Senior Services has issued over 500 new agency cards to citizens receiving its services and the Department of Public Safety has been issuing free non-driver IDs for voting purposes.
Voters who don’t show a valid photo ID will be asked to cast a provisional ballot and then must bring the required ID to their local Board of Registrars by 5 p.m. on Friday after election day. However, there is an alternative: two election officials can sign sworn statements saying they can positively identify the voter.
The total number of free voter ID cards issued in Alabama compares favorably with Georgia’s first year of its program in 2006 when 2,200 were issued. Georgia’s population is twice that of Alabama.
Most voting irregularities in our state are not found at the polling place but in absentee voting. Under Alabama’s new rules, even absentee ballots that are voted must include a copy of an acceptable voter ID. In the case of a legal challenge, the photo will be used as an added tool to prove fraud.
There are two groups of voters who are exempt from producing identification when voting by absentee ballot. The first is our military and overseas voters. The second group is elderly and handicapped voters whose polling places are not accessible to them due to: a neurological, musculoskeletal, respiratory (including speech organs), cardiovascular, or other life-altering disorder that affects the voter’s ability to perform manual tasks, stand for any length of time, walk unassisted, see, hear, or speak. There is a place on the absentee ballot application for such voters to mark and if otherwise valid, these ballots will be counted without the inclusion of a photo ID.
While the program has supporters and detractors, it is an honest election tool. In case you missed it, three women were charged earlier this month with orchestrating absentee ballot applications in Dothan. Not too many years ago, the circuit clerk in Hale County left office after being charged and later convicted.
Absentee voting is not only done out of sight, it can involve potentially hundreds of ballots. At almost every election, someone complains of going to vote at the polls only to be told someone has already voted them absentee. This practice must stop.
While detractors contend the idea of requiring voters to submit proof of who they are might suppress voter turnout, that has not been the case in recent elections in Georgia, Texas and Kansas.
People all across America generally support the idea of showing photo ID including Republicans, Democrats and Independents. The PEW Research Center reports that fully 95% of Republicans favor the requirement as do 83% of independents. By comparison, 61% of Democrats say photo ID should be required.
The study also found most voters felt they would have the proper identification on Election Day. We are working to make sure that will be the case in Alabama.