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Election Day 2007: New ID Laws Disenfranchise Voters

NAACP officials in Georgia and Michigan report new voter ID laws stopped people from voting.
 
 
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New state laws requiring photo voter ID in Georgia and Michigan prevented some low-income and minority voters from casting ballots in local elections held on November 6, according to the NAACP.

"The experience is that voters in Detroit are angry and confused about the new voter ID law," said Melvin Butch Hollowell, general counsel with the Detroit National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We are receiving complaints that are 40 percent above of what we see in a gubernatorial or presidential election."

"Right now, you can see the early confusion going on," said Edward Dubose, president of the Georgia state conference of the NAACP. "We are very much concerned about it. We have teams in the field. We plan to have a follow-up public hearing on Friday."

While the mainstream media is reporting that Nov. 6, 2007 has been a quiet, low-turnout election with few problems, the biggest exception appears to be introduction of the photo ID laws in Georgia and Michigan -- where state officials have said hundreds of thousands of previously registered voters lack the ID now needed to vote. A half-dozen states held statewide or municipal elections on Nov. 6.

A spokeswoman for Michigan's Secretary of State said her office "worked very hard" to inform voters about the new ID law and said there did not appear to be widespread problems.

The Department of Justice, whose Voting Section announced on Monday that it was sending federal monitors into Indiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi and Pennsylvania to ensure voting rights were protected, did not return calls to comment on the apparent voter ID problems in Michigan and Georgia.

The DOJ's release touting its enforcement efforts contained no reference to protecting the voting rights of registered voters who lack the newly required ID -- such as seniors, poor people and college students who do not have driver's licenses. Typically, the DOJ sends monitors into the field on Election Day to collect evidence that can be used in lawsuits. When the agency does not do that, advocacy groups such as the NAACP, will convene public hearings to gather testimony under oath that can be used in litigation.

In Michigan, the NAACP said the voter ID problems appeared to be falling into two categories: people whose ID was being rejected, and poll worker confusion over whether or not voters were given the opportunity -- as required by the state's law -- to sign a sworn affidavit attesting to their identity. Voters who signed that affidavit are supposed to get a regular ballot; however, the NAACP's Hollowell said people instead were being given provisional ballots, which are counted separately and require additional validation.

"The new ID law arguably is the biggest change in voting in Michigan since the 1950s," he said. "It is a mess out there. We have to clean this up before the presidential primary and general election."

Hollowell gave several examples of voter ID problems. At times, voters presented driver's licenses that were rejected by poll workers. Military ID also was not accepted, he said, although it should have been. In other cases, people were not given the chance to sign affidavits attesting to their identity and were just handed provisional ballots.

"They have got to do a better job with poll worker training," Hollowell said, adding that a common refrain heard from poll workers on Tuesday was, "That's the new law," whether or not they were correctly implementing it.

Georgia's voter ID law is tougher than Michigan's. In that state, voters whose names are not on local precinct lists are not offered an affidavit to attest to their identity. Later this fall, the Supreme Court will review a challenge to Indiana's voter ID law to determine if the photo ID requirement disenfranchises voters. The experience in Tuesday's Election Day is expected to be raised by attorneys on both sides of that issue.

In Indiana, the Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita announced he was deputizing "oversight teams" to monitor elections across the state. Matt Tusing, his chief of staff, would not say what problems were being tracked, nor how many deputies were sent statewide. He said his state's voter ID law, enacted in 2005, brought "no complaints."

The voter ID problems appear to be the biggest issue as voting was closing on Tuesday. The election brought few calls to a national hotline created by People for the American Way, according PFAW Democracy Program director David Becker.

By Tuesday evening, there were numerous media reports of glitches affecting electronic voting systems. In Marion County, Indiana, where Indianapolis is located, 66 of the the city's 529 machines did not start properly and were out of use for several hours. In Greeley, Colorado, the electronic voting machines initially displayed the wrong ballots on their computer screens. In Fulton County, Georgia, poll worker confusion or unfamiliarity with the technology created delays. In most of these locations, local media reports said paper ballots were used instead.

Steven Rosenfeld is a senior fellow at Alternet.org and co-author of What Happened in Ohio: A Documentary Record of Theft and Fraud in the 2004 Election, with Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman (The New Press, 2006).