5 things to know about voter ID laws

BY Jay Reeves, Associated Press  June 4, 2014 at 6:35 PM EDT
Voters cast their ballots at Legend Elementary School during the U.S. presidential election in Newark, Ohio November 6, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Photo by REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — New laws requiring voters to present photo identification at the polls were enforced in two Southern primaries on Tuesday, but with mixed results.

In Alabama, there were few hitches, but the count in a U.S. Senate race in Mississippi was slowed by provisional ballots cast by people who lacked identification under the new voter ID law. Ultimately, there weren’t enough provisional ballots in question to give either candidate a majority and a runoff will be held next month.

Here are five things to know about voter ID laws:

WHAT HAPPENED DURING THE PRIMARIES?

No major problems were reported in Alabama, where Republicans control the Legislature and governor’s office, although a Democratic-led group said poll workers turned away an unspecified number of voters for not having the right ID, including a 93-year-old man who has been voting since World War II. In the Republican Senate primary in Mississippi, the provisional ballots slowed the vote tally in the race between incumbent Thad Cochran and tea party-backed challenger Chris McDaniel.

Six other states held primaries Tuesday, but did not have voter ID laws.

DID THE LAWS WORK BY CURBING ANY FRAUD?

The absence of massive problems might mean the laws worked as intended, or it might mean nothing at all. Primary voters often are fully engaged in the political process, and their numbers are relatively small compared with general elections. The laws could have a different effect in November, when larger numbers of people could show up at polls without ID.

HOW MANY STATES HAVE SOME FORM OF THE LAW?

Thirty-four states have passed laws requiring some sort of identification from voters, but only 31 of them are in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Courts have struck down voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and a law passed in North Carolina won’t take effect until 2016.

WHY DO PEOPLE LIKE OR DISLIKE THE LAWS?

Supporters say the Republican-backed laws prevent fraud by making it more difficult for people to cast ballots in the name of inactive or even dead voters. Critics say such problems are virtually nonexistent, and they maintain the laws suppress voting by making it tougher for people to cast ballots because some poor and elderly voters don’t have the right IDs.

THE NEXT BIG TEST FOR THE LAWS

Voter ID laws could come into play June 10 in Arkansas, where runoff elections are scheduled and early voting is underway. A county judge ruled the law was unconstitutional, but the state Supreme Court blocked the order from taking effect. The new law was enforced in primary voting last month, but officials said only a small number of voters were rejected. The Senate runoff in Mississippi will be June 24.