SANTA FE, N.M. — Over the past decade, Republicans in the Legislature have repeatedly introduced legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls, only to watch the bills die in committees run by Democrats.
Next year could be different with the Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in the election last week.
With a 37-33 majority, House Republicans will be able to get a photo voter ID bill through that chamber. The question is what would happen to it upon arrival in the Senate, where Democrats retain a 25-17 voting edge.
Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who made her support of photo voter ID a major theme of her successful re-election campaign, believes there is a chance of Senate approval.
Some Democratic senators may be rethinking their positions after the GOP grabbed control of the House for the first time in more than a half-century, Duran says.
Also, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, a supporter of photo voter ID, was re-elected by a wide margin and will be riding that voter support into the Legislature’s 60-day session beginning Jan. 20.
“This is going to be a different year,” Duran says.
Albuquerque voters in 2005 overwhelmingly approved a photo voter ID requirement for municipal elections.
Duran and other Republicans argue photo voter ID is needed in state elections to combat voter fraud. Democratic opponents argue that it would suppress voter turnout and that the problem of voter fraud is overblown.
Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, says he believes the Senate will remain firm against photo voter ID.
“This is like a solution in search of a problem,” he says. “We’ve got plenty of people not voting as it as.”
There were two cases of possible voting fraud in last week’s election reported to the Secretary of State’s Office. In both cases, voters said someone else had cast ballots in their names.
In another case, an Albuquerque man who said he wanted to test the system obtained absentee ballots for three recently deceased voters but didn’t cast the ballots. He said he obtained the names and years of birth of the voters from published obituaries.
More than 500,000 people voted in the election.
In a report issued in September, the Government Accountability Office, which conducts investigations for Congress, said it found mixed results in scholarly studies on how voter ID requirements affect turnout.
But the GAO said an analysis it conducted found turnout decreased in two states after enactment of photo voter ID laws.
Currently, a New Mexico voter has the option of providing an ID at the polls or “self-identifying” by stating his or her name, voter registration address and year of birth.
Republicans want voters to have to show government-issued photo IDs, such as driver’s licenses.
Under a short-lived program, the Secretary of State’s Office in 2006 mailed out ID cards to about 1 million voters for use at polling places. The cards, however, didn’t have photos of voters.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a former state elections director, says Senate committee members would be very concerned about a photo voter ID bill that would do more to disenfranchise voters than increase ballot security.
“The question is how you balance between those two,” he says.
Ivey-Soto is executive director of the county clerks affiliate of the New Mexico Association of Counties, but he says the group as a whole hasn’t taken a position on photo voter ID.
In its 206-page report, the Government Accountability Office says five of 10 studies it reviewed found voter ID requirements had no statistically significant effect on turnout, but four studies found decreases in turnout up to 4 percentage points. One study found a jump in turnout.
The GAO says the analysis it conducted found that turnout decreases in Kansas and Tennessee were attributable to changes in their voter ID requirements. Both states have enacted laws to require photo ID.
The secretaries of state of Kansas and Tennessee have said they believe that the analysis was flawed and that the large declines in voter turnout in the states could be explained by factors other than changes in ID requirements.
The GAO looked at 10 other studies that estimated rates of how many people had driver’s licenses or other state-issued IDs and found rates ranged from 84 percent to 95 percent.
Seven of the studies found that ownership rates among black and Hispanic registered voters were lower than those who identified themselves as white. Not all of the studies looked at ownership rates by race or ethnicity.
As for the issue of voter fraud, the GAO says a variety of factors make it difficult to produce estimates of in-person voter fraud, which includes a person misrepresenting his or her identity.
Crimes of fraud are hard to detect, and studies that could be used to estimate the breadth of the problem are limited, the GAO says. Also, there is no single source of information on possible cases of in-person voter fraud, and state and federal agencies differ in how they collect such information.
In a court filing in July, according to the GAO, the U.S. Department of Justice said there had been no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation brought by the department anywhere in the United States since 2004.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 upheld a photo voter ID law in Indiana, but such laws – differing in details state-to-state – continue to be challenged in federal courts. Those challenges could lead to another Supreme Court ruling on the issue.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Thom Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-992-6280 in Santa Fe. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.