POLITICS

State legislative committee advances voter ID bill

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- A state House committee on Thursday advanced a voter identification bill, in spite of concerns raised by some members.

HB3, from Reps. Bob Lynn and Wes Keller, would require voters to present a form of photo identification or two forms of non-photo identification to election officials. If two officials know the voter, the identification requirement can be waived.

Voters who do not meet any of those requirements could still submit a question ballot and prove their identity later.

"The only purpose of HB3 is simply to help ensure that a person who shows up to a polling place is actually the person who they say they are, and I think that's basically a good idea," Lynn, R-Anchorage, said Thursday.

When a bill advances from committee, members can make recommendations for what should happen with the bill. Lynn and Keller, the chair and vice chair, respectively, of the House State Affairs Committee that heard the bill Thursday, recommended the bill pass.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, recommended the bill not pass, while Reps. Doug Isaacson and Shelley Hughes recommended the bill be amended. Rep. Lynn Gattis made no recommendation.

Isaacson, R-North Pole, initially backed the bill but said his support is now lukewarm, given conversations the committee has had. Hughes, R-Palmer, questioned whether the bill's requirements would work both for urban and rural areas, and across demographics.

Both said they would be monitoring how the House Judiciary Committee -- which is chaired and co-chaired by Keller and Lynn, respectively -- would tackle the bill's constitutional questions. That committee considers the bill next.

Many of the bill's critics say HB3 is unconstitutional as currently written and its implementation would disproportionately affect rural voters and Alaska Natives who can't obtain identification as easily as those who live in cities.

"The scheme that is set up in this bill discriminates, not by intention, not based on racial animosity, but by the way the government of Alaska has set up its division of services," Jeffrey Mittman, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska, testified.

During a speech before a joint session of the Legislature two weeks ago, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich called the bill a part of a trend to make voting more difficult in Alaska.

Lynn said Begich was misinformed and accused the senator of not reading the bill before his speech. Begich has stood behind his comments.

A 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled that voter ID laws are constitutional as long as the state provides residents the opportunity to obtain photo identification for free, according to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who testified last month about his experiences regarding that state's voter identification law.

Alaska does not offer free identification to all of its residents. HB3 would not require the state to issue free identification to a prospective voter.

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Follow Joshua Berlinger on Twitter at http://twitter.com/j_berlinger

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Online

HB3: http://bit.ly/Zr1mSz

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