Those in favor liken it to a guard in a bank lobby, while those seeking to block it assert that it would be costly and would place an undue burden on the elderly, minorities and the poor. Polling conducted for a week in July found that 83 percent of Oklahomans polled are in favor of it. And if it is approved in November, Oklahoma will be the 23rd state to have it.
"It" is State Question 746, which proposes that Oklahoma voters should be required to show photo ID, or their voter's registration card, in order to vote.
Tulsa attorney James C. Thomas in July filed suit in Tulsa County District Court to block the question's inclusion on the November ballot.
"I filed the suit because I thought that the voter ID "¦ violated the Oklahoma Constitution," Thomas said.
He noted that in a voter ID case from Indiana that went to the U.S. Supreme Court, that while the more stringent Indiana law was upheld, the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling clearly identified what comprises interference with the right to vote.
"The court had no trouble identifying the levels of interference that a voter ID causes," Thomas said. "The people that the (U.S. Supreme Court) identified are people who don't drive, who don't have a drivers license, and the elderly, the disabled, the people who might actually change states and have a hard time obtaining a birth certificate."
After a 6-3 vote upholding the Indiana voter ID law, recently retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who was long recognized as one of the court's more liberal members, wrote the Supreme Court's majority opinion.
"I'm just kind of perplexed about why you need this (new law)," said Al Lindley, chairman of the Oklahoma County Democratic Party. "There are already things in place to prevent voter fraud, and I think what they're trying to do with this new law is to suppress the voter turnout, because poor folk and elderly folk are more likely than not to vote for Democrats."
David Glover, a voting access advocate and blogger, said SQ 746 would be "a new rule for a fake problem."
"There's no evidence of one case of in-person voter impersonation in Oklahoma," Glover said. "There's a county district attorneys association I called and asked them to look up if there's ever been a case, a prosecution, and there's never been one prosecution (under) the rule for in-person voter impersonation in Oklahoma " ever."
Glover, too, insists that SQ 746 would hinder voter participation, rather than encourage it.
"Its intent is to disenfranchise a certain class of voters " to create hurdles for them " without solving any problems," he said. "This law will create longer lines at the polls, confusion, and it'll turn away valid voters. It's going to invalidate people with expired drivers licenses who are legal voters, except they didn't think about carrying their voter registration card, and if there's any lines or limited time where they were able to vote, they're just going to walk away."
State Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, a sponsor of the ballot question, disagreed with the idea that SQ 746 will hinder potential voters.
"I can't even imagine somebody thinking that this would violate their rights, when we've given them every single opportunity with this bill to be able to vote," Tibbs said. "I cannot imagine, unless you're wanting to do something wrong, why in the world you would object to showing identification at the polling place. You have to show it when you get on a plane. In Tulsa, at the City Hall, you cannot go beyond the front desk without showing ID with your picture on it."
Thomas Larson, press secretary for outgoing Gov. Brad Henry, who in 2009 vetoed an earlier version of SQ 746, said Henry's view remains unchanged. In a statement released in April 2009, after Henry vetoed Senate Bill 4, which would have required that additional identification be presented before voting, Henry called the measure "an unnecessary impediment to exercising this most basic freedom."
"Oklahoma already has a model state election system, one that has earned national praise for its accuracy and efficiency and has operated without the taint of voter fraud," Henry said in the statement. "It is not in the best interest of the election system or Oklahoma citizens for the Legislature to enact new requirements for registered voters and additional and potentially confusing verification duties for election workers that could cause undue delays and longer waiting lines at the polls, potentially discouraging even more citizens from voting."
State Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, a sponsor of SQ 746, countered that the new measure is designed to make voting no more difficult than in the past, and that requiring ID at the polls could actually increase voter turnout.
"I know The Wall Street Journal did a report some time ago that said in states that have good voter fraud prevention laws that, actually, the voter turnout is higher in those states," Ford said.
"You can use a photo ID, like your driver's license, but there are some people who don't have a photo ID, so we decided not to make them go to the effort to get one," he said. "They can use their county-issued voter ID card. And if they have lost that, all they have to do is call the election board, and another one will be mailed to them.
"Now, the important thing," Ford said, "(is) that (new) card will only be mailed to the address (people) put when they were registered. That way, if a person is elderly, if they don't have transportation, we're not requiring them to go to the county courthouse to the election board. We're making it as easy as possible, while still providing the protection that everyone who is voting is a legitimate voter."
In a February 2009 opinion piece in Tulsa World, Gloria Caldwell, vice president of the League of Women Voters of Metropolitan Tulsa, insisted that requiring voter ID would indeed place an undo burden on the poor, the elderly and minorities, and would cost approximately $1 million a year, thereby creating a de facto poll tax.
Caldwell also noted there has been scant proof of voter fraud in Oklahoma.
Ford counters such criticism by noting that SQ 746 is intended to address any future possibility of voter fraud.
"You see a lot of banks that have never been robbed, but they may have a guard in their lobby," he said. "Banks don't wait until they're robbed to put a guard in their lobby. It's something to keep something (else) from happening." "C.G. Niebank
photo Sen. John Ford.
State Question 746
A "yes" vote means voting requirements will be changed to require voters present a document proving their identity.
The document presented must have the name and photograph of the voter, and the federal, state or tribal government must have issued it. It must also have an expiration date that is after the date of the election. No expiration date would be required on certain identity cards issued to people 65 years of age or older. Instead of a photo ID, voters could present only the voter identification cards issued by their county election board.
A voter who doesn't have the required identification may cast a provisional ballot after signing a sworn statement.
A "no" vote means the present law stays in effect, which requires only that first-time voters in a federal election must show ID. Other voters are not required to show ID at any time.