Council hears sides on voter ID debate

Integrity of process, fairness key issues

January 30, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Pleading for Annapolis to lead the state in voter reform measures, a number of people have urged the new Annapolis city council not to strike down the city's unique voter identification law.

About 15 people testified in support of the law at a public hearing Monday night, including the measure's primary proponent, failed Republican mayoral candidate and former Alderman Herbert H. McMillan.

Three people, including a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, testified in favor of the repeal, which has the support of most of the council.

"We strongly support Annapolis' current progressive and fair voter identification law and oppose this effort to eradicate common-sense 21st-century identification procedures that safeguard the inclusiveness, fairness and integrity of our elections," McMillan told the council on behalf of the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee.

"Annapolis needs a voter identity law because Maryland's voter integrity protections are practically nonexistent," he said.

McMillan and other supporters called unfounded fears that the law - which requires voters to present identification or sign an affidavit before casting their ballots in city elections - could hinder voters. The law was implemented in last fall's elections with few complaints.

They pointed to other circumstances where individuals must present identification, such as when writing a check or when entering many public buildings since Sept. 11.

In Annapolis, they noted, a law requires every person - from senior citizens to midshipmen - to present valid picture identification to purchase alcohol at liquor stores.

"I think voting is more important than buying a drink," said poll worker Judy Dein.

They also noted the difficulties in Florida during the 2000 presidential election to support their case for voter reform.

"I am surprised that there would be any consideration of watering down the voter law after the 2000 election," said city resident Michael Dye.

The law's opponents contend that the measure - the only one of its kind in the state - is unnecessary. State law allows poll workers to ask voters to sign an affidavit if they doubt the person is who they say they are. Foes of the measure also say it might confuse voters since it is a different process from county and state elections and might keep some, especially the poor or elderly, who might not have identification, away from the polls.

Dwight Sullivan, staff counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, was one of the three who testified in support of the repeal.

"We should be very reluctant to adopt any measure that limits voter participation," Sullivan told the council, noting statistics that show poorer people are less likely to have identification.

While he and the law's other opponents cannot prove that the law caused anyone to stay home from the polls, those who support the law cannot prove that it prevented voter fraud, he said. Sullivan said the ACLU has considered challenging the law in court.

That move, though, might be unnecessary. Five aldermen have signed on as co-sponsors of the repeal legislation, the number of votes needed to overturn the law.

An attempt by the previous council to repeal the law failed last spring by one vote.

The council's vote on the repeal is not yet scheduled.

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