Technology moving elections toward electronic I.D.
Monday, December 17, 2012
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Though Missouri has no photo identification requirement for voting, thousands of residents showed their driver's licenses to get ballots this year.
That could become the new norm due to technological advances that use the bar codes embedded in driver's licenses to check in people to vote.
In roughly 20 states and about one-fifth of Missouri counties, local election officials this year used laptop computers or tablets to verify eligible voters. In many of those instances, prospective voters provided a driver's license or voter registration card containing a bar code, which when scanned by poll workers automatically matched their identities against a computerized list of registered voters to determine if they were eligible to vote and in the correct precinct.
These so-called electronic poll books proved faster than traditional paper logs. As a result, numerous election officials are now considering adopting the technology for future elections.
Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat whose office provides grants for election technology improvements, described the electronic poll books as "super-efficient" and "really terrific."
The electronic devices also could add a new wrinkle to the political debate about photo voter identification requirements.
Seventeen states currently require voters to show a photo I.D. at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And at least 18 states besides Missouri made some use of electronic poll books during the 2012 elections, according to a survey by the National Association of Secretaries of State.
Republican lawmakers in Missouri passed a photo I.D. mandate in 2006, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court in a ruling that essentially required any future photo I.D. proposal to win approval from statewide voters as a constitutional amendment.
State Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said he intends to try again during the 2013 session to refer a photo identification measure to Missouri's ballot. If successful, that vote likely would occur in 2014. By then, many more Missouri counties may already be using electronic poll books designed to read driver's licenses.
Scott Leiendecker is one of the drivers of the technological trend. He resigned as the Republican director of the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners before the 2012 election cycle to start a company called "Know iNK." Leiendecker sold iPad systems capable of functioning as electronic poll books to 11 Missouri counties this past year. Since the election, Leiendecker said he has roughly doubled his number of clients.
"The I.D. coupled with something like this would almost be like a speed pass, so you could get people through the line more quickly," Leiendecker said recently while displaying his "Poll Pad" device at the state Capitol.
Under current Missouri law, if voters do not have a driver's license or registration card from their county clerk, they still can show one of several other forms of identification to poll workers, including a utility bill or bank statement. Poll workers could use that information to type a person's name into an electronic poll book, it just would take a little longer to verify than a bar-code scan.
Some secretaries of state also are eying electronic poll books as an alternative to a formal photo identification mandate.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie suggested this year that driver's license photos could be loaded onto electronic poll books so election workers could verify voters. If voters didn't have a driver's license, poll workers could take a photo of them on the spot and enter it in the computerized poll book. Minnesota's Republican-controlled Legislature rejected the plan of the Democratic secretary of state, and instead referred a traditional voter photo I.D. measure to the ballot that was defeated by voters.
Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, a Democrat who is president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, recently proposed something similar in his state. He wants to implement electronic poll books equipped with photos from the Department of Motor Vehicles for future elections.
"This would require the poll workers to verify that the photo that is on file is the same person who has shown up to vote," Miller said. "It provides the exact same safeguard as when you use voter I.D. proposals, but it puts the onus on taking the photo on the government and therefore wouldn't disenfranchise any voters."
Missouri Secretary of State-elect Jason Kander, who is to succeed Carnahan in January, said he wants to examine whether a similar government photo-sharing arrangement could be used by Missouri election officials. Kander, a Democratic lawmaker from Kansas City, said he hasn't decided whether to pursue the plan as part of a legislative package as secretary of state.
But he added: "My instinct is to support the sharing of resources between government agencies, particularly when it can make voting more secure and convenient."
State law may need to be changed in order for the Missouri Department of Revenue to share driver's license photos with election officials.
While potentially helpful, Cox said that an electronic poll book with photos wouldn't do away with what he believes is a pressing need for voters to carry their own form of government-issued photo identification.