the police state expands - you need ID to vote!

Voter ID laws get tougher

Casey Newton The Arizona Republic Jan. 21, 2006 12:00 AM

With the March primary rapidly approaching, election officials across the state are scrambling to educate voters about the new identification requirements mandated by Proposition 200.

County recorders, election directors and city clerks are meeting regularly to create media campaigns that will outline what voters need to bring to the polls when they vote. Their goal is simple: Prevent voters from being disenfranchised.

Maricopa County this week hired Phoenix public relations firm Topete/Stonefield to develop a campaign that will tell voters what kinds of identification they need to bring to the polls March 14. The county is spending $20,000 to hire the firm and will spend thousands more on print, television and radio advertisements.

The campaign is scheduled to kick off on Feb. 14, the anniversary of the day Arizona was admitted to the union.

"We're going to have to be very creative in a very short period of time, because March will be here before we know it," said Yvonne Reed, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Recorder's Office. "You have to understand that the voter has been accustomed all these years to going to the polls and (just) saying, 'My name is.' We now have to get them to rethink how they will go to the polls."

The rethinking is necessary because of Proposition 200, a ballot measure approved in 2004 by 56 percent of voters. Among other provisions, the law requires voters to provide identification at the polls or be forced to cast a provisional ballot and, in most cases, show up in person at an election headquarters with proper ID within five business days.

For most of the state's 15 counties, March 14 will mark the first election since the law took effect.

The trick, election officials say, will be getting people to understand which forms of ID are valid.

Developing a strategy

In Maricopa County, where 870,000 registered voters reside, officials plan to send voters two items they can use as identification: a voter registration card and a bright yellow card identifying their polling place.

Those cards, which should arrive about a week before the election, can be used as substitute forms of identification if the address on a voter's driver's license doesn't match the address on the voter rolls.

County officials hope these and other measures will reduce the number of provisional ballots that have to be cast.

'A lot of work'

"The provisional (ballot) is a lot of work for us and it is very costly to handle," said Karen Osborne, Maricopa County elections director. "We're trying to make our work a little easier by getting everyone to bring their identification to the polls."

Coconino County is taking similar steps, creating informational pamphlets and mailing instructions to all registered voters. The county will hire an extra 80 workers during countywide elections just to help voters with their identifications.

"It's going to be hard," said Candy Owens, Coconino County recorder, who would be unable to vote using the ID in her purse. (Her driver's license has an old address.)

In addition to county efforts, individual jurisdictions are working on voter education throughout the state. In Maricopa County, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe and Scottsdale have been meeting to discuss strategy.

Scottsdale City Clerk Carolyn Jagger said Proposition 200 prompted the city to change its policy on mailing out candidate brochures. This year, Scottsdale will send the brochures to all 131,961 Scottsdale voters, even when there are multiple voters living at the same address.

Jagger hopes voters will scrutinize the part of the brochure that details the ID requirements. The brochure itself can be used as one form of ID, she said.

"The most important thing in my mind is that we don't disenfranchise voters," Jagger said. "The voters voted for this, so it's now become our responsibility to do the best job we can to make it easy for people to comply and still exercise their right to vote."

Education pays off

Election officials agree that education is their best chance to prevent long lines and much confusion at the polls in March.

"It's going to be paramount," said Brad Nelson, president of the Election Officials of Arizona.

There's evidence that officials' efforts will pay off.

In November, Apache County held elections for the Concho School District and Greer Fire District. It was the county's first election subject to the Proposition 200 rules.

No problems arose

After a campaign that included community presentations, news stories and mailers to each registered voter, the election was held without problems, said Penny Pew, county recorder.

Although fewer than 500 ballots were cast, an optional questionnaire showed widespread satisfaction with the county's outreach effort. Asked whether they had been adequately informed of the new requirements, 96 percent of voters said yes, Pew said.

But elsewhere in the state, county officials remain worried that certain populations will find trouble at the polls.

"We're still very concerned about that, because there's a large group of elderly people out there and a large group of young adults out there who don't have the ID requirements," said Ana Wayman-Trujillo, Yavapai County recorder.

Last year, Yavapai County adopted an ordinance that will make all elections not mandated to have a polling place take place by mail.

Start of a trend?

That could be the start of a move toward all-mail voting in the state, said Nelson, who in addition to being president of the Election Officials of Arizona is Pima County elections director. Mail elections are not subject to the Proposition 200 requirements.

"I can say without many reservations that a lot of problems or potential problems could be solved by more and more elections going to all-mail," he said.

In the 2004 general election, 48 percent of Arizona ballots were cast outside of a polling place. By 2008, Nelson said, the majority of ballots will be cast outside of a polling place.

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