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Indiana's proposed voter ID law strictest in nation
ELECTIONS: Lake County Democrats say thousands will lose vote with invalid provisional ballots

BY BRENDAN O'SHAUGHNESSY    The Northwest Indiana Times
March 28, 2005

INDIANAPOLIS | Democrats are so vehemently opposed to a controversial voter ID bill they have even proposed that voters should copy Iraq elections by dipping their finger in ink to prove they only voted once.

Like every other change proposed, Republicans rejected the ink idea and said a government-issued photo ID is the best way to prevent fraud in future elections.

Gov. Mitch Daniels said Friday he plans to sign the bill authored by a Porter County legislator, putting in place the nation's strictest voter identification requirement for the 2006 elections.

"I'm in favor of any bill that ensures no one's vote is stolen by another's fraud," he said.

Senate Bill 483 passed in a 52-45 party-line vote last Monday, while another bill to tighten restrictions on absentee voting, which unlike poll votes has been plagued by documented fraud, advanced with bipartisan support.

Lake County Democrats said the GOP's refusal to compromise on a bill that doesn't address the real problem proves their intention is to raise hurdles to voting and depress turnout. They believe some low-income Hoosiers, minorities and elderly people who don't drive will lose the right to vote because they don't regularly use photo ID's.

Black legislators compared the requirement to poll taxes that were once used for racial discrimination. They believe the change will mainly affect urban communities likely to vote Democratic, and election statistics support their argument that provisional ballots don't provide a safety net.

In the 2004 presidential election, 862 provisional ballots were cast in Lake County, according to the election board. Sally LaSota, the board director, said 747, or 87 percent, of the ballots were declared invalid. She said the mistakes were mainly due to poll worker error rather than some fault of the voter.

In Porter County, all of  the 55 to 60 provisional ballots were unsuccessful, though most were caused by not being registered or not voting in the correct precinct, election officials said. Statewide, a report released this week found that only 15 percent of provisional ballots counted in Indiana, a score better than just four other states nationwide.

  No ID equals provisional ballot

Sponsored by Sen. Vic Heinold, R-Kouts, Senate Bill 483 would allow voters without a drivers license, state ID or passport to cast a provisional ballot that would become valid if the voter presents an ID to the circuit court clerk or county election board within seven days.

Heinold said the idea originated not with a constituent, but with an Indianapolis mail carrier who said he'd been approached to vote three times under different names. The first-year senator said he didn't realize it would become the session's political football, but he's proud to sponsor the nation's strictest voter ID law.

"I'm not ashamed to be the best," Heinold said.

LaSota said the new process of provisional ballots did not work well in its first year despite extensive efforts to educate poll workers. The system was meant for people who can't prove they're registered and would be overwhelmed by people unaware they will need a drivers license even if they have known their poll workers for years, she said.

"It's going to disenfranchise a lot of people out there," LaSota said. "I can understand the security of the vote issue, but they're washing their hands by saying they're not denying the right to vote, just kicking it to provisional ballots."

She said lawmakers should instead "sock it to the absentees," where the county has had a history of problems. The Indiana Supreme Court ordered a new primary election for East Chicago mayor last year after it found evidence of rampant vote fraud, leading to the end of Robert Pastrick's three-decade reign.

Senate Bill 15 would tighten the absentee ballot process in several ways ranging from increasing penalties for vote fraud to requiring a signed affidavit to assist a voter with a ballot. Senate Democrats voted against that version because it required listing a reason for being out of town and prohibited mailing ballots within the county.

  Stopping fraud or depressing turnout?

Several Democrats said the voter ID bill was part of a GOP political agenda to squeeze out dissent and gain permanent power while they have control of both legislative chambers and the governor's office for the first time in 20 years.

They pointed to the voter ID bill, a constitutional ban on gay marriage and an inspector general bill they called a power grab for the governor as examples of legislating spite.

"This session has turned into pure hatred," said Rep. Dan Stevenson, D-Highland. "They're out to punish those who are against them."

Secretary of State Todd Rokita, a Munster native whose job includes presiding over all elections,  pushed hard for the photo ID requirement.

"To cry that the sky is falling a year ahead of time when it's primarily the county's responsibility for training, I find very odd, especially in a place like Lake County where we have the documented problems we have," he said.

"Half a world away, people are dodging bombs to go vote. That's how seriously they take it. If we took our elections more seriously, I think we'd have a better turnout and better elected officials."

Rokita said predictions that thousands will be disenfranchised have not come true in other states like Colorado that have required some form of ID to vote.

  Voting ID rules vary widely by state

Most other states allow voters to show documents like a Social Security card, birth certificate or student ID and vary on documents like fishing licenses, utility bills, bank statements and paychecks. Only six other states require a photo on the ID.

To account for people who don't drive, Senate Bill 483 was amended to make state IDs that now cost $9 available free of charge, which is expected to cost the Bureau of Motor Vehicles about $2 million.

Georgia is the only other state considering a bill as restrictive as Indiana's.

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