Oklahoma voter-identification law different from other states, experts say
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Tuesday, September 04, 2012
9/04/12 at 8:49 AM
Correction: A Tuesday Tulsa World graphic incorrectly identified the state of New York. This graphic has been corrected.
OKLAHOMA CITY - Experts say Oklahoma's recently enacted voter-identification law is substantially different from similar requirements that have been successfully challenged in other states.
Last week, a federal court blocked a new voter-identification law in Texas, saying the state is subject to a federal law requiring it to seek permission before changing statutes governing voting - Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - based on prior discriminatory practices. A similar measure passed in South Carolina is under fire, as well. Both laws require photo identification to vote.
After then-Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a voter-identification bill in 2009, lawmakers put it on the ballot, in the form of State Question 746. Voters approved it on Nov. 2, 2010, by a very large margin.
The measure requires proof of identity to vote. The identification document must have the name and photograph of the voter, been issued by the federal, state or tribal government, and have an expiration date that is after the date of the election. No expiration date would be required on some ID cards issued to people 65 years old or older.
Instead of photo identification, the resident could present his or her voter-registration card issued by the county election board.
The measure also allows for provisional ballots for those who can't meet the criteria.
The measure became effective July 1, 2011.
Ryan Kiesel, an attorney, former lawmaker and head of the ACLU of Oklahoma, said Oklahoma's situation is different from that in other states because Section 5 does not require Oklahoma to seek approval before changing election laws.
Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political science professor and author of "The Triumph of Voting Rights in the South," agrees.
He said states such as Texas and South Carolina must show that the change in the election law makes minorities no worse off than they were before the change.
Critics of requiring photo identification at the polls say it disenfranchises poor people, a large number of whom are minorities, who may not have access to photo identification. They also say it is unnecessary.
Supporters say it is needed to prevent voter fraud.
Gaddie said the Oklahoma law alleviates the burden on residents by allowing voter-registration cards and provisional ballots to be used.
Jim Thomas, a former University of Tulsa College of Law professor, filed suit in Oklahoma County challenging the Oklahoma law.
He alleges that the Legislature does not have the power to put an issue on the ballot without the governor's signature.
But the case was dismissed, and Thomas filed a motion for reconsideration, said Diane Clay, a spokeswoman for Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.
The state has until Sept. 15 to respond, Clay said. A hearing on Thomas' motion for reconsideration has been set for Oct. 22, Clay said.
An Oklahoma County district judge has ruled that Thomas' client doesn't have standing to bring the challenge and that, regardless, the process used to put the state question on the ballot was legal.
Thomas believes that the case will ultimately wind up before the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Both Kiesel and Gaddie think his legal challenge is a long shot.
"From the standpoint of not being a Section 5 state, we face a legal battle trying to invalidate it through the courts," Kiesel said.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states have laws in place that will require voters to show identification at the polls in November.
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act
Section 5 freezes election practices or procedures in certain states until the new procedures have been subjected to review, either after an administrative review by the U.S. attorney general or after a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
- The state or political subdivision of the state maintained a "test or device" restricting the opportunity to register and vote.
- Less than 50 percent of residents of voting age were registered to vote or voted in a presidential election.
- The state or political subdivision provided election information, including ballots, only in English in states or political subdivisions where members of a single language minority constituted more than 5 percent of the citizens of voting age.
The states that are required to seek federal approval before changing voting requirements are:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
Certain counties and towns in other states are also subject to the requirement.
Source: U.S. Department of Justice
Original Print Headline: Oklahoma voter-ID law legal, experts say
Barbara Hoberock 405-528-2465