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McConnell backs ID for voters
McConnell favors requiring photo ID
By James R. Carroll   The Courier-Journal    28 March 2005

WASHINGTON If Sen. Mitch McConnell has his way, voters in future elections would have to show a photo ID or driver's license and could be unregistered if they didn't vote in two federal contests in a row.

And he wants the United States to test an idea used recently in the Iraqi elections making voters dip a finger in indelible ink at polling places.

McConnell, R-Kentucky, said his goal in filing Senate Bill 414 is to combat election fraud, citing recent instances of people registered to vote in more than one state and other irregularities. In the past election, dogs were registered to vote in Maryland, Florida and Missouri, and more than 70,000 duplicate registrations were found in North Carolina and South Carolina.

But Democratic Sens. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Hillary Clinton of New York have offered a competing bill, SB 450, that seeks to encourage more people to vote by allowing registration on election day, making federal election day a holiday and requiring states to cut long lines at the polls.

The debate over these bills reflects some jockeying between the parties for political advantage, but it's more fundamentally a struggle of contrasting ideologies, experts say.

Doug Chapin, director of electionline.org, a Washington-based nonpartisan group that tracks election reform around the country, said the differences in the bills reflect philosophical approaches.

"The Republicans by and large tend to worry more about law and order, preventing fraud. The Democrats tend to worry more about civil rights," said Chapin.

McConnell said his bill is aimed at keeping elections honest, not cutting off access.

While some critics say the measure could lead to discrimination against minorities and the poor who turn out to vote, McConnell said those arguments were raised when Congress passed voting changes he co-sponsored in 2002.

"We're for everybody voting, provided they only do it once," he said in an interview about the latest measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo.

"I don't think we are requiring anything that is more onerous than what anyone needs to supply to apply for a credit card or information they have to provide for their child to see a doctor at school," McConnell said.

Although poll workers often ask for one, a photo ID is not required to vote under Kentucky law.

But voters must show some proof of identification such as a Social Security card.

Indiana also does not require a photo ID, but state legislation has been proposed to change that.

As for the Democratic bill, McConnell said he's concerned about its provisions for same-day registration and voting.

"It would be an open invitation to massive cheating all across the country," he said.

Clinton and Kerry say the problem with America's voting system isn't fraud it's access at the polls, and their bill helps to widen that access.

Kerry said in a recent statement that "the lingering question about the McConnell-Bond legislation is whether it aims to guarantee the right to vote, or suppress it."

"Time will tell," Kerry said.

No hearings have been scheduled on either bill.
Different concerns

Frank Ruley, 55, of Louisville, a registered Republican and the owner of a business that provides technology services to restaurants and grocery stores, said requiring a photo ID "prevents fraud." "If it's not a requirement nationwide, maybe it ought to be," Ruley said.

Purging the registration rolls of those who don't vote in two successive federal elections seems like a good idea, too, Ruley said.

But Donna Carter, 45, of Louisville, a Kroger seafood manager, said she's worried about upholding voting rights.

What McConnell and Bond are proposing appears to be trying to close opportunities to vote, when instead "it shouldn't be limited," said Carter, a registered Democrat who said she has never had a problem at the ballot box.

"People struggled for that right to vote," Carter said. "It's been that way for hundreds of years and it should stay that way."

Larry Doyle, 52, a registered Republican who works for the state and who lives in Mount Washington, said he also has never had a problem voting, nor has he witnessed any fraud as a former poll-watcher in Jefferson County and now in Bullitt County.

A lot of people already get confused about voting procedures, said Doyle, who maintains state government Web sites. If people forgot their photo IDs and were told they needed them, they might go home and not come back, he said.

"It would really discourage a lot of folks," Doyle said, adding he also has doubts about purging voter lists of those who fail to vote in two successive federal elections.
Refining the system

Clinton, Kerry and other Democrats have proposed the Count Every Vote Act. They believe that irregularities at the polls kept people from casting ballots things like voter intimidation, challenges to voters' identities, excessive waiting at the polls and not enough voting machines in some precincts.

McConnell, Bond and other Republicans also believe the voting system needs refinement, but to prevent problems such as people voting more than once.

Among abuses in the most recent elections, the senators said, were attempts to register "Mary Poppins" and other fictitious names, and evidence of numerous deceased but voting citizens in many states.

"I think there is more that should be done at the federal level ... to further ensure we make it easier to vote and harder to cheat," McConnell said of his new bill, the Voter Protection Act of 2005.
'Open invitation to fraud'

Paul Egan, director of government relations at the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates tighter controls on immigration, said what the Democrats are proposing is "an open invitation to fraud."

With evidence that states have issued thousands of driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants, the McConnell-Bond measure's call for government-issued photo IDs is "a good idea," Egan said.

But critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, say the GOP senators are proposing steps that will keep minorities and the poor from voting.

"If your intent is to empower the American voter to be able to fully participate in the democratic process, this is not the way to do it," said Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People..

Kay Maxwell, president of the League of Women Voters, said Republicans and Democrats should give the 2002 election changes time to work.

"To reopen (the reform law) before we've really had a chance to see it through and implemented we're not convinced that's the way to go right now," she said.

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