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Alaska voter ID proposal under fire in Legislature

Pat Forgey
Aoife Stout peeks out from underneath a voting booth while her mom Kristine Stout votes in the general election Nov. 6, 2012, in Anchorage. Loren Holmes photo

A bill before the Alaska Legislature requiring tough photo ID rules for voting is running into some bipartisan criticism. At a hearing Thursday, the bill sponsored by state Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, came in for both for criticisms and questions that couldn't be readily answered during a House State Affairs Committee hearing.

Efforts to require identification before voting are described by supporters as a way to prevent voter fraud, but are seen by critics as a way to disenfranchise certain voters, especially among the elderly or poor who are less likely to have the necessary ID or documentation to get it, and to those Alaskans living far from the DMV offices where they can obtain photo IDs.

"The proposal to require (ID), I think, will disenfranchise many of our people in the villages," said Myron Nanchang, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel, representing 56 Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta villages in Southwest Alaska.

Bill sponsor and committee chairman Lynn denied the bill is intended to suppress traditionally Democratic votes in the dozens of roadless villages dotting the Alaska hinterland. "Absolutely not," he said. "Everybody's vote is as good as anybody else's vote, no matter how they vote, whatever their party."

Lynn's bill is likely unconstitutional, testified Jeffrey Mittman of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, some of whose concerns were echoed by Alpheus Bullard, a Legislative Affairs Agency attorney. "Voting is is a fundamental right as recognized by the U.S. and state constitutions, and this bill will be subject to challenge," he said. Mittman warned the state would likely have difficulty showing a legitimate purpose for the bill, given the lack of evidence of voter fraud to combat.

Gail Fenumiai has been director of the state Elections Division since 2008, following nine years working in the division. She was unaware of any voter fraud in Alaska, other than cases such as a publicized case of an Anchorage police officer who was actually an illegal immigrant. "In my time at the division I have not seen a case of voter fraud that this bill is trying to prevent," she said.

Lynn did not find that conclusive, and maintained that the fact that there was no evidence of voter fraud did not mean that there was none happening. "The absence of evidence of fraud is not evidence of its absence," Lynn said.

That raised concerns with Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla. "I'm a great proponent of 'if it ain't broke, let's not fix it,'" she said.

Gattis likened the right to vote with the right to bear arms, and said neither should be infringed upon.

But Lynn said elections can and have be decided by a single vote. "One case of voter fraud is one case too many, he said.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach testified before the committee that a voter ID law in his state has been a success, and in November's general election it stopped several hundred people from casting ballots.

"It appears that virtually all of those people had a photo ID, and simply chose not to bring it in, Kobach said. That was likely because of lack of close races that those ballots could have swayed, he said.

Lynn's bill, House Bill 3, was held in committee by Lynn for further work. A similar bill last year session never left the State Affairs Committee, then also chaired by Lynn.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com