HELENA — A bill that would require photo identification to vote faced heated opposition from committee members and in testimony during a hearing on Thursday.
House Bill 357, carried by Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, would require all voters to present a photo ID. Under current law, people without an ID can use a document such as a utility bill or a paycheck stub with their name and address to vote. Similar legislation was vetoed in 2011 and died in committee in 2013. Skees said he drafted the bill to mirror legislation upheld in Crawford v. Marion County Election board, a 2008 decision allowing some voter ID laws.
The bill would require voters to present a driver’s license, state ID card, military ID, tribal ID, U.S. passport or a state, federal or local government ID or a concealed carry permit.
Skees said he’s carrying the bill to eliminate voter fraud he believes has occurred and gone unreported. Opponents to the bill said similar laws have historically disenfranchised minorities and low-income people and was unfair to people with disabilities and students who no longer could use student ID cards. Numerous opponents and committee members said there isn’t a need for the bill. No one spoke as a proponent.
SK Rossi, the director of advocacy and policy at ACLU Montana, said HB 357 is closer to legislation struck down recently in federal district courts in North Carolina and Texas than the Supreme Court decision Skees referenced. While bills may look neutral on their face, Rossi said the courts have an obligation to see if they function neutrally as well.
“It doesn’t matter if you attempt to put in safeguards if those safeguards don’t actually protect marginalized people from discrimination,” Rossi said.
Rossi was concerned that people without an ID would have trouble getting one. To get a $16 Montana ID card to vote, a person has to present two of three documents: a passport, Social Security card or birth certificate.
If they didn’t already have two of the three documents, it would be difficult to get them without a photo ID. To get a $12 birth certificate requires a photo ID, and a social security card requires both a birth certificate and a photo ID. A passport costs $135 and requires both a birth certificate and a photo ID.
“You’re basically placing people in this race to get all the documents you need to get an ID, but you can’t,” Rossi said. “That sounds reasonable, but it’s not.”
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Skees said he believes the overwhelming majority of Montanans have a photo ID already, but Rossi disagreed. Sarah Garcia, a DMV administrator, didn’t have exact numbers on who in Montana holds a driver’s license or an ID card.
Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda, asked Skees if there were any cases of when or how voter fraud was prosecuted in the state of Montana.
“No,” Skees said.
When other committee members asked about possibilities of voter fraud, Skees said there are likely instances that haven’t been reported because the system in place makes fraud difficult to detect.
“I suggest it can be gained and frauded and it hasn’t been reported by the previous secretary of state,” he said.
Rep. Bryce Bennett, D-Missoula, said he wanted to go on the record saying Skees’ statement was untrue.
Exceptions to voter ID requirements for people with disabilities and people over the age of 65 was criticized in testimony. The language in the bill says the exception is only for an “impossible” physical disability.
Disability Rights Montana said it’s likely the Secretary of State lacks the expertise to determine the severity of a disability and the usage of physical disability excludes sensory disabilities.
Rossi said it would be difficult to prove a voter is actually over the age of 65 if they don’t have a photo ID with their birth date.