Friday, May 08, 2020

OCPA column: Voter ID is a good idea, whether in-person or not

Voter ID is a good idea, whether in-person or not
By Jonathan Small

If it’s a good idea to require ID to thwart in-person voter fraud, doesn’t it make even more sense to require verification when people vote by absentee ballot, where the potential for stolen ballots and abuse is much higher?

For years Oklahoma has required “absentee voter ID” by requiring those casting an absentee ballot to sign an affidavit that must be notarized. But a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court decision found state law did not mandate notarization.

This week, the Oklahoma Legislature voted overwhelmingly to clarify the law and require notarization, but also loosened procedures during the pandemic for those concerned about contracting COVID-19. Under the bill, individuals voting absentee during a state health emergency do not have to get their affidavit notarized. They must only provide a photocopy of a form of ID, which can include their free state election card.

That’s a sensible way to secure elections and address citizens’ health concerns.

Some critics object Oklahoma has seen relatively few convictions for voter fraud. But as Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat noted, one reason for that fact is strong voter ID requirements, including notarization of absentee ballots. Prior to notarization of absentee ballots, fraud was common. A Sallisaw resident interviewed by The Oklahoman in 1983 recalled how “buying and selling” of absentee ballots “was nothing unusual on election day” before safeguards were put in place.

Other opponents claim the cost of a photocopy—a few cents—is an insurmountable financial obstacle for some voters. If that is among opponents’ best arguments, one wonders what arguments they deemed to silly to air in public.

No one has been able to identify an instance where someone contracted COVID-19 from being in the same room as a notary public. And it’s worth noting Wisconsin conducted a statewide election on April 7 amidst the pandemic with few negative consequences.

Around 450,000 Wisconsin residents voted in person that day. A recent study found rates of new confirmed COVID-19 cases did not increase at a greater rate in Wisconsin than in other states in the following weeks when election-related infections should have appeared.

According to recent reports, only 52 people who voted in person in Wisconsin election—about 0.01 percent of the total—subsequently tested positive for COVID-19, and many of those individuals may have been exposed to the virus elsewhere.

Put simply, if 99.9 percent of people standing in line to vote in-person were not exposed to COVID-19, it makes little sense to argue a notary public cannot meet individually with absentee voters to notarize ballots in a way that protects health.

Due to COVID-19, many people are expected vote by absentee ballot in Oklahoma’s June 30 election. Lawmakers and the governor deserve credit for showing that election security and protection of citizen health are not incompatible goals.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.


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