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House panel discusses voter ID bill

Posted: February 22, 2013 - 12:06am

JUNEAU — Lawmakers have begun deliberations on a bill that would require voters to present photo identification when casting their ballots, but one critic said the geography and ethnic makeup of the state would likely make the law unconstitutional if passed.

The House State Affairs Committee began discussing HB3, by Reps. Bob Lynn and Wes Keller, on Thursday. Lynn and Keller serve as the chair and vice-chair of the committee, respectively.

“Voting is the very foundation of our Democratic republic,” Lynn said to the committee. “To protect that foundation, voters must be who they say they are.”

The bill, as currently drafted, could pose unique practical and constitutional problems for Alaska due to its geography and large native population, the head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Alaska said.

Many of Alaska’s villages are located hundreds of miles away from a Department of Motor Vehicle or government office that would issue some form of identification — a challenge that Alaskans living in urban areas do not have.

“Because the changes encompassed in HB3 have the effect of diminishing the right of Alaska Natives to vote, this bill as drafted would not be constitutional,” Jeffrey Mittman, The ACLU state director, told the committee.

Mittman noted that the entirety of Alaska is covered under the Voting Rights Act because of its history of discriminatory treatment of Alaska Natives.

A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional as long as the state provides citizens the opportunity to obtain photo identification for free, according to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who called in to testify about his experiences regarding Kansas’ voter ID law.

However, Alaska currently does not issue identification cards for free to people under 60, according to Alpheus Bullard, an attorney for legal services for legislative affairs.

Gail Fenumiai, director of the Alaska Division of Elections, said she has not seen any cases of voter fraud in which one person uses another’s identification.

Still, Lynn stressed that the absence of evidence does not mean that the crime does not exist, and that close municipal or state elections can be decided by just one vote.

“One case of voter fraud is one too many,” Lynn said.

The bill was held in committee.

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