Two weeks ago, Oklahoma County District Court judge Aletia Haynes Timmons dismissed a more than four-year-old challenge to Oklahoma’s Voter ID laws.
In 2010, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly voted (74%) to approve a state question that mandated voters to show a government-issued identification in order to participate when they showed up to the polls. The question’s inclusion on the ballot was part of a trend over the past decade in which mostly Republican-voiced concerns over the possibility of voter fraud have made headlines in the national media and spawned many states to introduce stricter regulations on the materials required to vote.
Tulsa resident Delilah Christine Gentges, unhappy with the decision, subsequently sued the state of Oklahoma. As in most recent cases concerning voter ID law opposition, Gentges cited the fact that the law appears to unfairly target certain groups that are less likely to have access to the required identification; namely minorities, the elderly, and the poor. According to the Tulsa World, she argued that such discrimination is in violation of voter rights guaranteed in Oklahoma’s state constitution: “all elections shall be free and equal. No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage.”
According to the lawyers for the Attorney General’s Office, however, “there is no circumstance under which a registered voter will not have the opportunity to vote” under the current law. Compared to the restrictions recently overturned in states such as Arkansas, Wisconsin, Texas, and North Carolina, Oklahoma’s actually appear quite reasonable, as they allow voters without a photo ID to apply for a provisional ballot and to prove their identities by signing an affidavit. State lawyers also noted that when registering to vote, Oklahoma citizens are given voter identification cards that satisfy the law’s requirements.
Gentges’ team has been quick to paint the state’s actions as political in nature, a common stance taken by the left against voter ID laws over the past several years. Attorney James Thomas, who represented Gentges in the case, called it “a political decision, not a policy decision. These are laws that make sense for Republicans because they help Republicans win seats.”
Many investigations into the extent of voter fraud — specifically voter impersonation, the only type of fraud that could be prevented by the existence of picture ID laws — have been conducted only to find little evidence of any significant problem. During the entire Bush administration, the Justice Department uncovered only 86 such cases, or .00004% of total votes cast. An investigation by the Washington Post into allegations of rampant voter fraud in Texas, which implemented strict photo ID laws in 2011, found just three cases of voter fraud in the state since 2000. Nonetheless, it remains the official stance of many in the country, including the state of Oklahoma, that these laws are “a reasonable way to further the legitimate interest of detecting and deterring voter fraud.”