Two of the most notable figures on either side of State Question 746 -- which would require that voters show a government-issued identification card with a photograph or a voter registration card in order to cast a ballot -- agree the measure is likely to pass in November.
But they have different expectations for what will happen when it faces a likely court challenge in the aftermath of that anticipated passage.
Jim Thomas, a professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law, filed a legal challenge to the proposed law but withdrew it during a court hearing on Sept. 17.
"We kept running into problems because the ballots had already been printed," Thomas said. "I personally was a little bit reluctant to ask the court to invalidate those. It would have created such a complex situation."
Thomas decided to put off his challenge until after the election.
"But that had nothing to do with the substance of the arguments," he said.
If state Rep. Sue Tibbs, R-Broken Arrow, one of the authors of the bill passed by the Legislature sending the measure to state voters, is worried about that possible challenge, she doesn't give any indication of it. She said 27 states already have some form of voter ID requirement.
"I've had many people call me and tell me they couldn't believe it when they moved here and we didn't require a photo ID at the polls," she said.
She also insists the U.S. Supreme Court decided the constitutionality of the issue in April 2008 when it upheld an Indiana voter ID law by a 6-3 margin. That law was considered the strictest in the country, giving Tibbs and other proponents of similar measures a degree of confidence their laws would withstanding scrutiny.
"I wish we could make our law that tough," Tibbs said of the Indiana law, which dictates that any citizen casting a provisional ballot must show up at the courthouse within 10 days and present a government-issued ID. "If you want to vote with a provisional ballot there, you have to prove who you are -- they don't have to prove you're not."
The measure going before Oklahoma voters stipulates that anyone unable to produce a photo ID at the polls can still vote by provisional ballot.
Thomas argues the Supreme Court's decision in the Indiana case was anything but the final word.
"What the courts have recognized is that voter ID does, in fact, interfere with the right of suffrage," he said. "The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Indiana law, which had been challenged under the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, only because the plaintiffs did not present enough evidence to show there was substantial interference with that right."
Thomas said the Oklahoma Constitution contains three explicit provisions protecting a citizen's right of suffrage, most notably Article 2, Section 4, which states: "No power, civil or military, shall ever interfere to prevent the free exercise of the right of suffrage by those entitled to such right."
And that's precisely what voter ID laws do, he said, explaining that the requirement that a citizen present a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to vote places an undue burden on those such as the elderly or the poor -- two groups that often support Democratic candidates -- because many of them don't have a photo ID and it's not easy for them to obtain one.
"The courts have recognized that the motive is to keep Democratic voters away from the polls," Thomas said. "So I decided I was going to challenge this."
Tibbs responded by saying the requirement to present a government-issued photo ID has become so common these days it doesn't represent much of a burden for anyone. She pointed out that citizens must present a photo ID merely to be granted admission to City Hall in downtown Tulsa.
The Broken Arrow Republican spent 10 years trying to get a voter ID bill through the Legislature, and she said she has placed great value on the integrity of the electoral system since she was a child.
Her father, a tool-and-dye maker who was very interested in politics, often took her with him to campaign door to door for candidates he supported.
She noted a recent Sooner Poll that showed strong support for the measure, but she has a message for those who are still undecided.
"I'm going to tell them to support the integrity of our right to vote," she said. "It's been evident in many elections we've got a problem when ACORN (a national voter registration group) has been accused of voter fraud. Now they're looking into that. And through the years, I've seen many things in Oklahoma, like the (recent District 1 Tulsa County Commission primary) in which 2 Democrats ran against each other."
That tight race was decided only when one candidate withdrew his challenge several weeks after the primary, and Tibbs believes voter irregularities were evident in that case.
"I believe the integrity (of the system) is at stake," she said. "I believe the voters are proving that because the more available we've made to people, the less they vote. I think they think their vote doesn't count."
Thomas acknowledged that arguments about protecting the system are part of the "given lore" in support of voter ID laws, but he said studies have shown there is very little evidence to support the need for such measures.
"And we have zero evidence in Oklahoma," he said, returning to his belief that such measures are being adopted for political reasons. "It's understandable that proponents of voter ID laws are not going to tell you, 'We're out to keep Democrats from voting.' "
Neverthleless, Thomas said, it is his "gut feeling" that SQ 746 will pass.
"Then we'll start all over again with the challenges," he said. "My challenge might be different this time, although I don't want to anticipate that until the final outcome is determined."
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