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By Michael D. Hernandez

Judging by the tangle of litigation at state and federal courts, voter ID laws continue to smolder as an issue.

Recent court rulings have either blocked or approved state requirements that voters have a photo ID, and more court decisions will further impact what is an acceptable way of identifying a person at the polling place, panelists said Thursday at NCSL’s Legislative Summit in Minneapolis.

Often, the courts have focused on how much of a burden a state’s voter ID law places on a person to obtain the required form of identification, said Jessica Karls-Ruplinger, an attorney for Wisconsin’s Legislative Council.

She said the courts are interested in what a state counts as acceptable ID to cast a ballot, whether they can obtain such identification for free and what happens to a voter who does not have a required identifying document. Thirty-four states have passed laws that require a voter to show some form of identification. Supporters of strict voter ID laws say the requirements help stop voter impersonation and increase confidence that the election process is accurate. Opponents contend strict ID requirements restrict the right to vote and makes cumbersome an elections process that rarely attracts fraud.

Wisconsin Representative Kathy BernierRequiring voter ID helps ensure an election is free of misconduct, said Wisconsin Representative Kathy Bernier (R).

“There has to be checks and balances,” she said, adding that being able to verify a voter will be key as elections officials lean on new technology.

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said there should be more of an emphasis on data-sharing between state agencies and across state lines to ensure that voter registration lists are updated.

“More accurate data is an important part of voter verification,” he said.

Mississippi Senator David BlountMississippi Senator David Blount (D) said states must make every effort that a new law does not keep a qualified voter from casting a ballot. He wonders if photo-ID requirements meant to dissuade fraud are locking out many people from participating in an election, especially seniors who might find it challenging to gather up a birth certificate or other documents to obtain identification.

“What is the greater number, the number of people who are impersonating someone at the polling place or the number of Americans with a Constitutional right to vote who are unable to because of a strict voter ID requirement. That’s the challenge.”

Blount, who opposed the strict voter ID requirements implemented in his state this year, said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann made a good faith effort to educate voters about the new law and offer people access to free identification. Those efforts in Mississippi also included transportation for people to travel to government offices to verify birth records and to receive identification.

Michael D. Hernandez is an NCSL elections policy specialist. Email MIchael.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.

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