Call to Order and Roll Call
The4th meeting of the Task Force on Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs of the Interim Joint Committee on State Government was held on Tuesday, September 27, 2011, at 1:00 PM, in Room 171 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Darryl T. Owens, Co-Chair; Senators Jimmy Higdon, Alice Forgy Kerr, Gerald A. Neal, R.J. Palmer II, John Schickel, Dan "Malano" Seum, and Johnny Ray Turner; Representatives Kevin D Bratcher, Mike Cherry, James R. Comer Jr., Joseph M. Fischer, Derrick Graham, Mike Harmon, Melvin B. Henley, Mary Lou Marzian, and John Will Stacy.
Guests: Jennifer Bowser, Senior Fellow, National Conference of State Legislatures; Sarah Ball Johnson, Executive Director, Maryellen Allen, General Counsel, Kentucky State Board of Elections, and Elaine Walker, Secretary of State.
Approval of Minutes
The minutes of the meeting of August 23, 2011, were approved without objection upon motion by Representative Owens, seconded by Representative Marzian.
Voter Identification – State Requirements and Legislative Update
Jennifer Bowser from the National Conference of State Legislatures discussed laws requiring voters to show identification when they arrive at the polls. She discussed the cost of enforcing these laws and the legal standards that the courts have established. Interest in the topic has been growing and that a number of states have recently enacted or proposed changes in their statutes. Ten years ago, 36 states had laws that did not require voters to show identification at the polls, and only 4 states required photographic identification. By contrast, in 2010 there were only 23 states that did not require identification. Two states have adopted “strict photo identification” standards, under which voters who cannot produce photo identification are allowed to cast provisional ballots that will be counted only if the voters can display photo identification within a reasonable time. During 2011, several states proposed or adopted changes to their voter identification laws. Proponents of tightening the requirements want to prevent voter fraud, while opponents express concern about restricting access to the ballot.
Ms. Bowser discussed the most common arguments used to challenge voter identification laws in court, and she described the requirements that courts have imposed when states strengthen their voter registration laws. Courts have said that photo identification must not require voters to spend money, must protect voters from undue burdens, and must be accompanied by voter outreach and education programs.
A copy of Ms. Bowser’s PowerPoint presentation can be found in the Legislative Research Commission library.
Senator Thayer directed members’ attention to Kentucky’s statute and administrative regulation on voter identification. KRS 117.227 requires election officers to “confirm the identity of each voter by personal acquaintance or by a document, such as a motor vehicle operator’s license, Social Security card, or credit card.”
Representatives of the State Board of Elections and the Secretary of State were present at the meeting and responded to the members’ questions about voter identification laws in Kentucky.
Representative Bratcher asked about the possibility of allowing voters to sign pledges stating that they do not possess photographic identification. Ms. Bowser responded that some states allow voters without photographs to sign affidavits.
Representative Fischer discussed the 2008 case of Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, in which the United States Supreme Court held that Indiana’s photo identification statute was constitutional but acknowledged that certain groups of voters might have reason to challenge the law.
Representative Owens asked whether there is significant evidence that voter fraud exists. Ms. Bowser described what she called “a handful of cases” and said that voter impersonation is hard to prove. She said that part of the interest in voter identification laws comes from a public perception that fraud is occurring. There was discussion of Kentucky’s experience with voter impersonation and the cost of imposing new identification requirements.
Senator Thayer called attention to an article in State Legislatures magazine describing the costs of voter identification laws in Georgia and Indiana, the two states that have adopted strict photo identification laws. Although the two states have roughly equal populations, the costs of the two programs are very different. Ms. Bowser mentioned an Internet article compiling various states’ estimates of the costs associated with voter identification.
In response to a question from Representative Harmon, Ms. Bowser said that a few states allow their voters to register on the day of an election. The effect of these laws has not been widely studied.
Senator Seum asked about Kentucky’s statute allowing poll workers to identify voters by personal acquaintance. There was a discussion of methods used to establish voter identity, including the listing of street addresses and penalties for poll workers who make false statements.
Representative Graham noted that the issue of voter registration has recently received a great deal of discussion, and he asked where the concern is coming from. Ms. Bowser pointed to a recent poll reporting that 80 percent of Americans view voter fraud as a serious problem. Senator Thayer said that protecting the integrity of elections is an important goal and that Kentucky should not become the target of persons seeking to unfairly influence the outcome of elections.
Representative Owens said that, in the absence of more evidence about fraud and the misuse of the ballot, legislatures should be careful when adopting registration laws that can lead to suppression of the vote.
Senator Neal agreed that Kentucky should maximize the franchise while preventing voter fraud. He asked whether voter identification laws are adopted primarily to remove a public perception of fraud, and he discussed other methods of verification, including requirements that votes be accompanied by a paper trail.
Senator Schickel compared identification laws to a civics lesson that illustrates the seriousness of voting. Since identification is required when people acquire licenses and make various purchases, states can demonstrate that elections are important by requiring identification for voting as well.
Senator Kerr agreed, and she noted that there is bipartisan support for voter identification legislation. She said that stricter laws could reverse public doubts about the integrity of the voting system and might improve voter turnout.
There was a discussion of state laws allowing early voting, mail-in ballots, and other measures intended to increase opportunities for voting.
Business concluded, and the meeting was adjourned at 2:30 p.m.