Annapolis council upholds voter ID law

Alderman to continue efforts against measure

March 14, 2001|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The city's voter identification law has survived a bid to repeal it, clearing the way for it to face its first test in a municipal election in seven months.

After heated debate among the aldermen, the Annapolis city council narrowly upheld the law late Monday.

Aldermen Cynthia A. Carter and Samuel Gilmer sponsored the effort to repeal the 1998 law - believed to be the only one of its kind in the state - which requires voters to present valid identification or sign an affidavit before casting their votes in city elections.

Carter has criticized the law, which passed almost a year after the last city election, as unnecessary and racist. She said it would place an unfair burden on voters, especially low-income, elderly and minority voters who might not have a driver's license or other official identification.

"We don't want to hinder anyone or infringe on their rights," she told the council Monday.

In 1998, Carter and Gilmer voted for the voter identification law, which was introduced by Alderman Herbert H. McMillan and passed the city council by a 7-2 vote.

But Carter said she voted without giving the law much thought.

Since then, she said, she has "stepped out of myself and looked toward the citizens who are less fortunate" and can now see the difficulties the law might present.

Seeking `redemption'

"The only redemption of this blunder was to ask for [the law's] repeal," she said.

In a speech he delivered to the cable television camera mounted on the council chamber wall, McMillan harshly criticized Carter - who sits beside him at council meetings - charging that she was making "false, frivolous and politically motivated allegations of racism."

"Repeated false charges of racism lessen our collective sensitivity to racial problems," he said. "The voter identification law was a good law two years ago, and it still is."

Aldermen Sheila M. Tolliver and Ellen O. Moyer joined Carter and Gilmer in voting for the repeal of the law. Fellow Democrat Louise Hammond voted with the council's four Republicans - McMillan, Michael W. Fox, Joseph Sachs and Mayor Dean L. Johnson - to keep the law on the books.

Tolliver presented a list of "myths" that she said are used to justify voter identification laws, including that such measures help put an end to fraud. Moyer criticized McMillan, saying he should be as wary of making false allegations of fraud as McMillan had said Carter should be about false allegations of racism.

Victory declared

Yesterday, McMillan called the vote "a victory for anyone who believes in free, fair and inclusive elections."

"It vindicates the efforts of the citywide, multiracial, bipartisan coalition of voters who want election reform," he said.

But Carter vowed that she has not finished fighting to overturn the law and said that members of the council who voted to keep the law lacked compassion for those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

"I am very disappointed that there is not enough sensitivity on that council to see what they have done," she said. "They are basing everything on their level. They need to come down and see what's happening."

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