As June 3 election approaches, ads fill airwaves on photo ID requirements
MONTGOMERY, Alabama – A number of Alabama election offices, civil rights groups and Democrats are urging voters to get familiar with the state's new voter identification law, or risk being turned away at the polls during the primary and general elections.
The first test of the law, passed in 2011, will be on June 3, during the primary election. As the primary election approaches, advertisements are being run on television and radio, asking people to become familiar with the types of photo ID they must now produce when they vote in person.
Alabama law allows that photo identification, recognized at the polls, can be offered to voters free of charge at various sites throughout the state.
In Montgomery County, TV ads are being run by the Montgomery County Election Center. They are narrated by Steven L. Reed, a county probate judge. The Birmingham NAACP is promising a grassroots campaign to educate voters on the process.
And in some cases, officials are going an extra step, taking the opportunity to slam the law.
In a press release put out by U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Birmingham, the 7th District congresswoman urges people to get an ID if they lack one, while also making it clear she opposes the new requirement at the poll. Sewell has criticized the law before.
"Sewell fears the law will roll back the clock on voting rights that were won as a result of battles fought in Alabama's 7th District decades ago, and will ultimately serve as a form of voter suppression if people aren't made aware of the law and helped through the process of obtaining a photo ID," the release says.
Sewell's press release listed a number of mobile sites in the 7th District where photo IDs can be obtained.
Democrats across the nation have been critical of the photo ID laws, which became more commonplace as Republican strength in state legislatures began growing in the middle part of last decade. Thirty-four states have passed laws mandating some form of ID at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states tend to check signatures of voters who show up to vote, according to the conference.
Alabama asked for ID prior to the law, but not necessarily photo ID.
The Republicans claimed a photo ID was more appropriate. In 2010, the Alabama GOP made photo ID part of their "Handshake with Alabama" campaign pledge. That fall, the GOP swept into power in both the Alabama House of Representatives and the state Senate, with supermajorities that could override filibusters. Gov. Robert Bentley, a Republican, signed the law in mid-2011.
But the law is still a sensitive point with Democrats, who say such photo ID laws could disenfranchise minority voters, the poor and the elderly. The fear is many will show up to vote on Election Day without photo ID, and that many of those voters could be likely to vote for Democrats.
"The majority of the old people and poor people don't have photo ID. The Republican-led (Alabama) Legislature, they know that," said state Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, in an interview with AL.com last June.
In February, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat, blasted new voter ID laws as being the result of "hatred" and "zealotry," according to The Hill magazine.
State Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville, was the bill's sponsor in the House. Rich says the law was "long needed" because of voter fraud. A photo ID will discourage voter fraud, he said, something that is hard to prove after the fact.
"I've always gone by the adage, 'An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,'" said Rich.
Rich said the free photo IDs offered by the state will ensure the law will not disenfranchise people. And the law allows two people at a polling place to sign an affidavit stating they know the voter in question, allowing the voter to cast a ballot, Rich said.
The types of ID accepted under the voter ID law are:
-- A valid driver's license or non-driver ID card.
-- A valid photo voter ID card or other valid ID card issued by any state or the federal government.
-- A valid U.S. passport.
-- A valid government employee ID card with a photo.
-- A valid student or employee ID card issued by a college or university in the state, provided it includes a photo.
-- A valid U.S. military ID card containing a photo.
-- A valid tribal ID card containing a photo.
The Alabama secretary of state's website has detailed information about the law, what photo IDs are recognized at the polls, and where to get a photo ID.