DENVER (AP) – Senate Democrats nixed a proposal to ask voters whether people should provide photo identification at the polls amid concerns Wednesday that the measure would create barriers for people least likely to have IDs – minorities, the elderly and the homeless.
The hearing became so intense at one point that the chair of the committee considering the bill threatened to cancel the hearing after an outburst from people during testimony.
The Republican-sponsored bill would ask voters in November whether people should show a government-issued photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, before being able to vote. The proposal would also remove utility bills, bank statements, and naturalization documents as valid forms of identification during elections.
Colorado’s proposal failed on a party-line vote on the same day Minnesota lawmakers passed a measure asking voters in November whether people should present photo identification for voting. Similar requirements have faced legal challenges in Texas and Wisconsin. However, Indiana’s photo ID law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Republican Sen. Shawn Mitchell, the sponsor of the bill, urged lawmakers to dismiss the political rhetoric from both sides of the debate and weigh the issue on its merits.
“There are a couple of caricatures and distortions that surround the debate on this issue,” he said. “There are some people who say that Republicans only support photo ID because they want to suppress the vote. There are other people who say Democrats only oppose photo ID because their side relies on voter fraud to win contested elections. Let’s throw out both those caricatures.”
Democratic Sen. Bob Bacon expressed concern that the ID requirement could affect homeless veterans who for some reason or another don’t have photo identification.
“I really believe that this an impediment and that group of people really become invisible to us,” Bacon said. “And I think that we need to make sure then that we are not disenfranchising those sorts of people.” Bacon said voting is a constitutional right not open to public opinion, and that’s another reason why he opposed referring the question of photo identification to voters.
The hearing became testy when Sam Dominy, testifying against the bill on behalf of the Colorado Alliance for Retired Americans, answered a question from a Republican lawmaker asking whether people show photo identification to buy a firearm. Dominy answered that having a firearm is a privilege, prompting immediate groans of protest from the crowd.
Sen. Rollie Heath, a Democrat chairing the committee, used a gavel to quiet people down and called for a break.
“I’ve got people sitting behind the witness laughing and making noise all through this. I’d ask you please to stop that,” he said. “We’re going to discontinue this hearing if there’s any outburst like that again.”
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican, testified in favor of the bill, arguing that photo identification requirements don’t decrease voter turnout. Opponents of the requirement also contend that there’s no evidence of mass voter impersonation, but Gessler said that he’s “unwilling to accept any level of vote fraud.”
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
LINK: House Bill 1111
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)