Cross-Posted to Project Vote's Voting Matters Blog
State and federal law outlines, protects, and facilitates the voting rights of citizens. Under ideal circumstances, these laws make voting equally accessible to all eligible Americans without unnecessary barriers or hurdles. Unfortunately, the right to vote is too often misconstrued by the very officials charged with helping to protect and facilitate that right, leaving voters at best confused, and at worst disenfranchised.
Illustrating the problems that can arise from the improper imposition of election laws (intentional or not), Arkansas has gained some attention for wrongfully requesting photo ID from some voters in the November 2008 election.
On Election Day 2008 Project Vote received calls from concerned voters in Jefferson and Pulaski counties who claimed election officials were demanding photographic proof of identity at the polls; according to Arkansas law the state is only supposed to request ID of voters whose given birth date at the polls does not match that on the precinct voter registration list. Even under those circumstances, a voter is not required to present government-issued photo ID, but is allowed a wider range of options outlined in the Help America Vote Act, including a copy of a utility bill or a paycheck.
In a notice letter sent to Secretary of State Charlie Daniels last week, Project Vote election counsel Donald Wine wrote that “through the inconsistent imposition of a photo identification requirement by these local election officials, Arkansas is effectively denying voters equal access to the voting polls under law.” Wine further urged Secretary Daniels to “issue a directive informing all state and local election officials of the correct procedures and directing those officials to abide by the current statute that references the way a citizen can be identified as a registered voter.”
Following the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold Indiana's strict photo ID law in Crawford v. Marion County Board of Elections, several other states appeared to circumvent their own state laws by demanding additional ID, according to records from the Election Protection coalition's 866-OUR-VOTE hotline. In fact, voter ID in general kicked up a cloud of confusion last year with hundreds of voters calling the hotline with problems that went beyond the improper request for ID from misinformed poll workers, including inquiries from perplexed voters who were unsure of the exact type of ID that their state requires.
While the inconsistent variety of election laws across the states clearly have an impact on election officials and voters alike–especially if the law relates to controversial issues that affect select communities, such as voter ID and felon voting laws–the emphasis for clearing confusion should first be put on those charged with implementing the rules. Transparency of election law between the state and the citizen starts with the person that voters meet when exercising their right to vote: the poll worker. To ensure every voter that walks into the polls is treated fairly and advised by the same election rules, every state must ensure that poll worker training is uniform across the state to ensure that there are no illegally disenfranchised voters, unwanted media attention, or legal challenges.