The debate over ID: Is it extra voter security or voter disenfranchisement?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — Following the announcement of a lawsuit filed by the state of California against the city of Huntington Beach over mandating voter identification checks, 17 News asked Kern County voters what they thought.

More than 700 voted and 92% said voter ID should be checked at the polls.

Voter ID is needed to register to vote in California but it’s against state law to ask for ID at the poll sites.

“The only time you should be asked for an ID at the polls, is if they are a first-time voter in a federal election [who hasn’t yet verified their ID],” said Kern County Auditor-Controller-County Clerk-Registrar of Voters, Aimee Espinoza. “Poll workers should never be asking for an ID.”

The concern over Huntington Beach’s newly voted upon mandate is that requiring voter ID can deprive some voters of their right to vote.

“I just don’t buy that,” said Tom Pavich, Kern County Coordinator of the Election Integrity Project California. “In today’s day and age everybody has an ID.”

Pavich is a staunch supporter of voter ID checks at poll sites, stating the additional verification can further prevent voter fraud.

It’s opinions like those of Pavich’s versus those of opponents, like Julia Gomez, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

Gomez said, “Someone who is eligible to vote and doesn’t have ID can’t be able to cast a ballot in person, and so we’re essentially disenfranchising that person.”

In this debate over whether voter ID should be checked at the polls, worries over voter exclusion are ringing loud.

Again, California law prohibits poll workers from asking for voter ID for in-person voting. Identification is required though, when registering to vote.

“Some of the most common forms are a picture ID, a driver’s license, a government-issued ID, a passport, even a work ID,” said Kern Registrar of Voters Espinoza. “Even a health club identification form, a property tax bill, utility bill, so if you don’t have something that has a photo on it, there are multiple [other acceptable ways].”

Who’s eligible to vote in California?

As Espinoza explained, voters must be a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years of age by the time of the election and a resident of the state, as well as county in which they’re registering to vote.

“Whenever someone is registering to vote, we are cross checking on names, birthdays, addresses,” Espinoza noted. “If there’s a driver’s license or some sort of ID with an ID number, we’re checking those against records… We’re doing those checks as we’re setting someone up to register.”

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Per state law, when someone is voting at the polls, no photo ID check is required.

“Someone comes into the poll site, they give their name, [poll workers] look them up on the e-poll book, and then they have them confirm the address,” Espinoza said.

Opponents of voter ID say an additional check when voting is redundant and disenfranchising, especially when initial voter registration itself is a big barrier.

In Kern, they say, the language barrier often interferes with civic engagement.

“It’s just one more thing the voter has to remember to do,” said community activist Linda Fiddler. “It’s kind of a complete waste of taxpayer money to do this because of all the checks and balances that we have at the elections office.”

Fiddler, who has participated in local voter registration and education efforts for about 10 years, emphasized California’s voter registration process is already so rigorous.

“Diligently, they check [identification during registration],” Fiddler stated. “They cannot become voters unless all of that information is verified.”

When asked why exactly mandating voter ID equals voter disenfranchisement, Gomez with the ACLU responded, “Either because for that election cycle [the voter doesn’t] have a valid photo ID, or because they outright can’t ever get photo ID due to the whole bureaucratic process because they’re missing primary documents like a birth certificate.”

Experts like Gomez say no, not everyone has a photo ID.

And no, that doesn’t automatically mean they’re ineligible to vote.

Experts say, for example, a voter could’ve just turned 18. Perhaps they’re registered to vote, but just don’t have that proper ID yet.

Or, a voter may lead a life of not needing a photo ID.

“And really the question is, not everyone has an ID, right? If you live in a rural community, it might be hard for you to get to the city of Bakersfield or a larger city that has DMV services or ID services. There’s also folks that just don’t have the time to get off work to get that ID,” said Noe Garcia, director of civic engagement at the Dolores Huerta Foundation.

Garcia added, “Transportation issues are a big issue in Kern County… a lot of farm working communities really carpool together, get rides from their companies or folks that they work with to get to their workplaces. So, when they’re home, they’re not getting that access to go to the DMV to get their ID…”

Gomez also noted the various barriers in obtaining a valid ID.

“There’s time and monetary costs involved with getting an ID,” she said. “Individuals who lack photo ID are disproportionately Black, Latino and voters with disabilities.”

Gomez further noted the inability to access primary documents can hinder — especially minority communities — from seeking proof of identification.

“There’s people who were born in a different country and has since naturalized and are missing some of those primary documents,” Gomez began. “It’s a circular process. Sometimes the process to get a birth certificate might include a photo ID, and so there are people who are stuck…they can’t get a photo ID because they don’t have a primary document like a birth certificate, and they can’t get a birth certificate because that in return requires a photo ID.”

Voter ID supporter, Tom Pavich, said, “For some reason, if someone doesn’t have one, let’s go out of our way to make sure that they get one.”

On the other side of the aisle, Fiddler pointed out, “Instead of putting the energy towards this… I would rather that they went out and educated people on the process of voting and work with populations to make sure that our elections and voting has the integrity that they want.”

Opponents also touched on the dangers of history repeating itself.

Gomez explained every state, including the Golden State, has a history of excluding certain voters. She specified that in the South, Black voters were often excluded. In California, the Black, Latino and Asian communities were often left out.

“Voter ID, literacy requirements, poll taxes, which some have argued voter ID could be considered a poll tax because you’re forcing people to spend money on voter ID in order to vote,” Gomez said of the past and present history of restrictive voting laws.

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