Election Day to put new voter-ID laws to test

Matthew Benson The Arizona Republic Mar. 5, 2006 12:00 AM

Election officials are tentatively optimistic, minority voting advocates are nervous, and it's a good bet some residents are just plain oblivious.

Regardless, the way you vote is about to change.

The March 14 local elections are the first test for new voter-identification requirements that voters imposed on themselves in 2004 with their passage of Proposition 200. That means when residents trek to the polls, they'll have to do more than recite their name.

Valid identification is the norm now, meaning at least one form with name, address and picture or, lacking picture ID, at least two forms.

Voters with insufficient identification can cast a provisional ballot but may be asked to return to an election office with valid ID within 72 hours to have their ballot counted.

More than 11 forms of government and other ID are accepted, including voter registration cards and polling place reminders mailed to registered voters in Maricopa County. Despite the changes, no major delays are expected in the process of casting or counting ballots.

How will voters react, and will those with ID problems bother to return to prove their ballots should be counted, even after unofficial election results have been announced? That, election officials agree, is the main question and something they concede they won't know until after the March 14 results are final.

"I think anytime you implement something new, there will be some challenges," Phoenix City Clerk Vicky Miel said. "We're working to try to make it go as smooth as possible. I'm sure there will be some surprises."

Election officials are hopeful a blitz of media attention and public education efforts by the government and public groups have hit the mark. Maricopa County spent $20,000 to hire a public relations firm and thousands more on print, television and radio advertisements. Citizen groups such as Valle del Sol have done voter training and walked neighborhoods to explain the Proposition 200 requirements. And yet . . .

The election changes were news to Liz Pitts, an 18-year-old Scottsdale resident. So, too, for Willis Henry, 44, of Glendale. But both individuals, walking in downtown Phoenix on Friday, said they'll be glad to show ID at the polls.

"You do the same when you go to the airport, so what's the difference?" Pitts said. "You need a license everywhere you go, pretty much."

Henry said he is happy to see the ID requirements. Otherwise, he suggested, someone who's not a legal resident could cancel out his vote.

"I think it's unfair I don't get my say because somebody without an ID gets to vote," he said.

Proposition 200 was put in place partly to deal with concerns about voter fraud. But Latino advocates such as Luz Sarmina Gutierrez, chief executives officer and president of Valle del Sol, worry that the rules will have the effect of dampening minority voting.

Her fear: Legal residents who speak little or no English will feel confused or intimidated when they're met with new requirements at their polling place. Some may leave outright, and others may not return a second time if they're asked to show additional identification.

With the rules in place, she simply asks that everyone be treated the same "so that if you're blond-haired and blue-eyed you get asked for identification, too. I think 100 percent of the people should be asked for it."

Either way, Anita Luera of Valle del Sol is nervous.

"This (Proposition 200) is targeted to those who still have language issues," she said. "I feel the intent was to be detrimental to minority populations."

To help head off confusion and intimidation, Phoenix will have bilingual and Spanish-speaking poll workers on hand Election Day, especially in heavily Hispanic precincts.

The Glendale woman who helped write Proposition 200 said the intent was never to disenfranchise legal voters. But Kathy McKee said she is eager to see how the new election rules play out.

"I'm sure there are going to be a few people who are inconvenienced," she said. "Overall, I think it'll be good to see our voter system enhanced and less chance for voter fraud.

"A person who's living in society today has some kind of ID. The honor system doesn't work for anything anymore."

How the new requirements will affect the timely release of election results is another unknown.

Verifying provisional ballots is a painstaking process. After the 2004 general election, Deputy Director of Elections Linda Weedon said, 70 people worked 15 hours a day for 10 days to verify nearly 70,000 provisional ballots cast in Maricopa County.

Proposition 200 could mean a greater proportion of such ballots.

So election officials are considering the March 14 contests, which should draw just a fraction of the more than 1 million voters eligible to participate, a dry run for general elections in November and 2008.

The relatively low number of ballots expected means results shouldn't be significantly delayed.

Unofficial results should be ready by the evening of Election Day. Maricopa County hopes to have final election results by the evening of March 17, with Phoenix ready the following day.

But the general elections to come could be "a whole different ballgame," Miel said. Roughly 100,000 provisional ballots could be cast in November, placing even more strain on election offices struggling to get timely results.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-4947.

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