PARKERSBURG - State lawmakers are considering proposals to require voters to produce photo identification to cast a ballot.
But state and local election officials say current requirements are adequate and they don't feel additional regulations are necessary.
"Nationally different states have adopted different policies, some require a voter to show identification every time they vote compared to West Virginia which only requires it when you first register," said Wood County Clerk Jamie Six. "Some states don't require identification at all. I would not be in favor of that. Those are the states that have problems."
In West Virginia, when a resident registers to vote, the clerk's office requires they show identification. If an individual registers by postcard or other means where they have not actually registered in person, the first time they go to vote they must show identification. After that, they are just asked to sign the pollbook and the pollworkers compare the signatures.
"I think the pollworkers are adequately comparing the signatures. A requirement for further identification would actually slow down the process, and that's a concern," Six said, alluding to possible lines at polls that might be created if pollworkers have to have everyone produce identification.
"We have not had any case in Wood County where someone tried to falsely vote on behalf of someone else," the clerk said. "I think it's crucial everyone understand, it goes from never showing identification in some states vs. West Virginia where you must show to become a registered voter," he said.
West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie E. Tennant said she will fight any law that suppresses voter turnout, makes it more difficult for people in rural areas of the state to vote, increases wait time for voters at the polling place on Election Day or costs a voter money.
"The Republican Party in West Virginia wants to pass oppressive laws that make it harder for an eligible citizen to exercise their right to vote," Tennant said. "They are proposing solutions to fix a problem that doesn't exist. What we should be focusing on is helping election officials maintain voter registration rolls and new technology like electronic poll books that help keep track of those who have already voted. I have been working for years to purge the voter rolls of dead voters and have had no support from the GOP. They have had chances to address a very real problem we have here in West Virginia and have done nothing. Now they want to spend time and money to make it more difficult and costly for legal voters to cast their ballot. It makes no sense."
Tennant said passing voter suppression laws, like requiring an already legally registered voter to produce photo identification, would not have stopped election law violations similar to the absentee voting scheme in Lincoln County in 2010. Tennant's Investigations Unit examined evidence for more than 18 months in that case and brought three elected officials to justice.
There are already requirements for a voter to provide identification when voting. If it is a citizen's first time voting after they registered by mail to vote, they have to produce a document that shows their name and current residence address. That document could be a driver's license, paycheck or utility bill. A voter is verified in the polling place by comparing their signature, which is the same verification process the GOP has proposed, according to Tennant.
"Forcing people who have been voting legally for years to obtain a photo ID would be a hardship if they are elderly with limited mobility. It might be difficult for a woman who was married in another state to obtain a marriage certificate. And if a voter wants to vote and doesn't have an ID, what then? They will have to vote a provisional ballot, and that means poll workers have more paperwork to fill out. The end result is longer lines at the polling place. And then it will be up to a subjective three member Board of Canvassers to decide if that ballot will even be counted. These laws will have far reaching impact on the election process that I believe will keep people who are legally entitled to vote from casting their ballot. We cannot allow that to happen. Our democracy is too important," Tennant said.
Legislation has been introduced which would amend the code to require a voter to present an identifying document which contains their name, address and photograph. As introduced, the legislation states: "if the person desiring to vote is unable to furnish an identifying document which contains the name, address and a photograph, he or she shall be allowed to vote but must cast a provisional ballot." Provisional or challenged ballots here are turned over to the Wood County Commission when it meets as the Board of Canvass, then the board must rule on the challenge. If the challenge is overruled, the vote is allowed, if the challenge is sustained, the vote is not counted.
Thirty states presently have laws in place that will require all voters to show ID at the polls. A total of 33 states have passed voter ID laws. Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin presently have no voter ID requirement in place, even though laws have been enacted in those states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.