DENVER – Colorado lawmakers Wednesday once again took up the issue of photo identification as a requirement to vote, killing two measures that would have mandated the practice.
The Republican-backed measures were killed by the Democratic-controlled House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on party-line votes.
Similar attempts in recent years at the Legislature also failed.
Both bills Wednesday addressed same-day voter registration, enacted by a Democratic-backed measure in 2013 that made sweeping reforms to the state’s election laws, including allowing voters to register on Election Day.
One of the bills Wednesday was sponsored by Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose. His idea with the legislation was to send the question to Colorado voters, pointing to a Magellan Strategies poll that indicated 72 percent of voters support photo ID as a condition of same-day voter registration.
Coram called his measure an “anti-speculation” bill.
“With the passage of our election laws and same-day voter registration, there are questions about what does this mean. Are we conducting a fair election?” Coram asked. “The fact is, we really don’t know.”
After the vote on his measure, Coram said the bill only was “Round 1,” stating that the issue would come up again as a ballot initiative, in which he would take a lead role.
The other bill to die Wednesday also would have required photo identification for same-day voter registration but would not have required a vote of the people.
La Plata County Clerk and Recorder Tiffany Lee Parker, the new president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said she supports an effort to tighten up voter-identification laws.
In La Plata, she said, the issue is not a major concern, because most voters use photo identification to register to vote. Common forms of ID include a driver’s license or Fort Lewis College ID card.
But Parker said she is hearing from several constituents who would like to see tougher voting laws.
“It’s important, obviously, that people feel that elections are conducted with absolute integrity,” Parker told The Durango Herald. “From what I hear from my constituents, it would make them feel better about our system if a photo ID was required.”
Parker spoke as the La Plata County Clerk and Recorder. The Clerks Association has remained neutral on the photo ID issue.
Critics of the 2013 elections law worry that same-day voter registration can lead to fraud without photo identification, suggesting there is no absolute way to validate legal residency without it.
But proponents of the law point out that 95 percent of voters in 2014 mailed back or dropped off their ballots. They point out the 2013 elections law required all-mail voting, which aimed to increase voter participation.
Voters already are required to present a Colorado driver’s license to register to vote, if they already have one. If a voter does not have a driver’s license, then they can use their Social Security number.
Of the 2.9 million voters in Colorado, only 26,000 don’t have an ID or SSN associated with their voting record, and many of those are because they registered before 2004, when an identification requirement was enacted.
In the rare cases in which neither a driver’s license nor Social Security number is available, voters are allowed to apply for a voter-identification number. When they actually vote, they would have to provide a form of identification from a long list of options, including a utility bill or bank statement. This is where concerns regarding fraud arise.
But critics of photo ID fear the requirement would disenfranchise poor and elderly voters, pointing out that they might not have a photo identification.
“Voting is a fundamental right,” said Lizzy Stephan, spokeswoman for New Era Colorado, which helps young people register to vote. “This bill restricts voters’ options unnecessarily and would prevent some Colorado voters from participating in our democracy.”
Newly elected Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, is carrying the torch for his predecessor – Scott Gessler – by strongly supporting voter ID laws.
“That’s an important safeguard, and that doesn’t exist under current Colorado law,” Williams said. “It is important to have that safeguard.”