Secretary of state offers promising voter ID plan

Secretary of State Ross Miller, Nevada’s top elections officer, has accomplished the rarest of political feats: finding previously unknown middle ground on a hyperpartisan issue.

Last week, Mr. Miller, a Democrat, supported the Republican cause of voter photo identification. He said he would sponsor a bill at the 2013 Legislature to add the additional layer of protection against potential election fraud. Mr. Miller’s announcement was blasphemous to many Democrats, who charge that voter photo ID laws suppress the votes of the poor and minorities.

But Mr. Miller’s proposal does no such thing. His legislation would introduce photo identification to the voting process in a way practiced by no other state.

Other states, including Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Idaho, require voters to present photo identification to poll workers to receive a ballot. The burden is on the voter to obtain photo identification and remember to carry it. Under Mr. Miller’s plan, however, the burden to obtain and store photo identification is on the state.

Election officials would obtain copies of the digital driver’s license photos of registered voters from the Department of Motor Vehicles and store them in poll books with voter signatures. Poll workers then would verify the identities of voters by comparing both their signatures and their photographs. Citizens who are registered to vote but do not have identification or photos on file with the DMV would be required to have their photographs taken by poll workers and sign an affidavit confirming their identity.

Mr. Miller said he got the idea from Minnesota, where lawmakers rejected the plan. It would make voter impersonation exceptionally difficult – and make it easy to catch anyone willing to commit the felony.

“There is a cost,” Mr. Miller said. “It will cause some delays (in voting), and that will be part of the debate. But it is the way to do it.”

This is a sensible approach that should erase Democratic concerns about voter suppression – there is no direct cost to voters. And it would go a long way toward improving voter confidence in the integrity of Nevada’s elections, something no one can put a price on. The state’s current safeguards are notoriously flimsy, allowing anyone to register to vote and vote without ever presenting photo identification to anyone.

But we’d like Mr. Miller’s plan to go a few steps farther, especially in light of another development from last week: news that Nevada will issue driver’s licenses to some illegal immigrants.

Many thousands of younger illegal immigrants, brought to the United States as children, are now eligible for federal employment authorization cards under a “deferred action” order from President Obama this summer. Those federal photo cards have long been accepted by the DMV as proof of identity.

But Nevada doesn’t verify the citizenship of registered voters. Noncitizen immigrants – legal and illegal – will still be able to vote under Mr. Miller’s plan, provided they ignore warnings that doing so is a felony. Last month, Review-Journal columnist Glenn Cook reported that an untold number of noncitizens received postcards from Mr. Miller’s office asking them to register to vote online, and that at least two noncitizens had been registered to vote.

The solution to this problem is simple. The Legislature should require the DMV to note whether driver’s license and state identification card holders are citizens. The DMV already verifies citizenship or immigration status before issuing identification, but clerks don’t record it. All the agency needs is a single data entry field to do that job – and it doesn’t even have to appear on identification. Election officials already verify names and addresses against DMV databases, and they soon could be required to pull photographs from those databases as well. Verifying one additional, critical piece of information wouldn’t require much more money or work.

Mr. Miller is on the right track. Preventing voter impersonation is important. But it’s equally important to prevent ineligible voters from registering to vote and casting ballots. The integrity of our democracy demands it.

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