Early voting begins in Oklahoma after voter ID law upheld

AP News
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Posted: Aug 18, 2016 2:28 PM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahomans began early voting Thursday ahead of next week's primary runoff elections, even as attorneys pledged to challenge a judge's recent ruling upholding the state's voter ID law.

Attorneys for a Tulsa voter who challenged the law said they will appeal a ruling by Oklahoma County Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons that upheld the law requiring voters to present a valid photo identification card from the state, tribal or federal government before they can cast a ballot.

Voter Delilah Christine Gentges sued the Oklahoma State Election Board in 2012 after voters approved the measure in a statewide election in 2010, alleging it creates a "new barrier" for voters. The statute took effect in July 2011.

"Any condition that affects the right of suffrage is unreasonable in our minds," said Tulsa attorney William Thomas, who represents Gentges. "I think ultimately it's going to keep voters from voting. It's a barrier to voting similar to the poll tax, which is unconstitutional."

Thomas said attorneys will appeal Timmons' ruling on the law's constitutionality, which was handed down on Monday, as well as her ruling that the issue could be heard in Oklahoma County instead of Tulsa County, where Gentges lives.

"I think the judge basically asked us to present certain evidence, and then when we presented it she altered what she was asking for," Thomas said.

Early voting will continue through Saturday in counties that have state or federal elections but will end Friday in those that don't.

The Oklahoma voter ID measure requires voters to present a valid photo identification card from the state, tribal or federal government, though the elderly can use photo IDs without an expiration date. Voters who do not have photo identification can show their free voter registration cards, and those without a proper identification card can sign a sworn statement and cast a provisional ballot.

Those without a proper identification card can sign a sworn statement but are only allowed to cast a provisional ballot.

Supporters have said the measure will reduce voter fraud. More than 30 states have some kind of voter ID requirement at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And voters have challenged some of those states' voter ID laws.

Just last month, a federal appeals court blocked North Carolina's law that limited to six the number of acceptable photo IDs. The court said the provisions targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision."

In Wisconsin, a federal judge limited the requirements of that state's voter ID law and ordered the state to issue valid voting credentials to anyone trying to obtain a free photo ID but lacking underlying documents such as birth certificates.

And in Texas, a federal appeal court ruled that a strict voter ID law discriminates against minorities and the poor and must be weakened before the November election.

Oklahoma's Republican-dominated Legislature approved voter ID requirements in 2009, but former Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed the plan. Henry said at the time that the proposal conflicted with the Oklahoma Constitution, and in his veto message warned lawmakers to be "especially careful when tinkering with this fundamental right."

Legislators then opted to place the measure, State Question 746, before voters on Nov. 2, 2010, and it passed with 74 percent of the vote.

A spokesman for Attorney General Scott Pruitt, whose office defended the law, said the law does not infringe on any citizen's right to vote.

"The law, passed by a vote of the people to prevent voter fraud, ensures that the person who appears at the poll is registered to vote, and the law provides for several easy and free avenues to show proof of identity," spokesman Will Gattenby said in a statement.