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Wyoming Senate committee tables voter ID bill for more work

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CHEYENNE – Old age and associated complications such as loss of mobility will affect almost all of us.

But they shouldn’t block our most basic democratic right – the right to vote — said Lindi Kirkbride of AARP Wyoming.

Kirkbride is especially concerned for senior citizens, but all Wyomingites in general, if Senate File 134 become law and residents are forced to show picture identification at polling places.

“The scenario is it’s a terribly nasty day,” Kirkbride said. “Someone in a walker wants to go vote. The poll checkers are there and they’re trying to determine, ‘Oh, yours is expired. You can’t vote because your license is expired, sorry.’ It’s going to cause these big lines.”

The bill won’t become law this year. But next year could be different.

In legislative parlance the bill has been “laid back,” or held for the interim. Over the next year, one of the bill’s sponsors, state Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, county clerks and others will work to improve it.

“We all agree we want everybody to be legal to vote and vote in the right place,” Driskill said. “That’s really what we’re trying to do with the intent with that.”

SF134 would require IDs at polling places in addition to current state law that requires identification when people

register to vote.

Driskill’s concern is that registered voters show up and vote at the wrong precincts – either unintentionally, as his parents did for decades, or intentionally, when voters try to cast ballots for candidates not in their home precincts.

Add to that temporary residents such as oil and natural gas workers who vote in Wyoming even if it’s not their official residence.

Last week, clerks from half a dozen counties testified at a Senate committee that the problems are the result of other Wyoming laws. The committee determined SF134 might not fix the problem and ordered more work on the bill.

The clerks and Driskill tried to amend the bill but ran out of time. Friday was the last day for bills to pass out of their committees of origin.

“It’s a pretty intricate bill,” Driskill said. “It’s pretty sensitive.”

“By stepping back and asking what are we trying to accomplish, we should work through this and achieve the goals the sponsor wanted,” said Hans Odde, Hot Springs County clerk.

Odde said it’s too soon to know whether picture IDs will be required in next year’s bill.

The picture IDs are what concern Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center.

Not everyone has a driver’s license and obtaining a license or state ID these days is difficult with the federal REAL ID act, an anti-terrorism measure that ratcheted up the process for states to issue IDs, Neal said.

SF134 would require current IDs by the state and federal government. That could exclude some tribal IDs, he said.

People who live on reservations are far from government offices. Some don’t have vehicles. “It’s hard for them to get to a place where they can get an ID,” Neal said.

SF134 also allowed utility bills as proof of address when someone is voting for the first time in a federal election. Neal said that could be difficult in the case of roommates. The utilities may be in the name of someone different than the person trying to vote.

A 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School found 11 percent of voting-age American citizens do not have a current, government-issued photo ID.

The study also found that citizens who earned less than $35,000 a year were more than twice as likely to lack such an ID. Eighteen percent of citizens age 65 and older lacked such an ID. Almost 25 percent of black Americans lacked such an ID.

Despite the statistics, groups like the League of Women Voters are optimistic that the bill drafted in the interim will keep voting open.

“The League wants to make sure there aren’t barriers put up to suppress participation,” said Marguerite Herman, who lobbies for the group.

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