Mashpee Selectmen Support State Voter Identification Ballot Initiative

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By: Geoff Spillane
Published: 09/30/11

The Mashpee Board of Selectmen Monday evening voted unanimously and without debate to support a statewide petition effort that would eventually require voters to produce photo identification at the polls on election day.

The board’s endorsement was requested by Mashpee Town Clerk Deborah F. Dami, who supervises elections in town. Ms. Dami said that the Cape and Islands Town Clerks’ Association at its last meeting voted to support the ballot initiative, contending that it was important for voters to have their say on the issue.

In a letter to the board, Ms. Dami wrote that “the opportunity, in any Massachusetts city or town, for someone to vote under a different name is very real,” and that “no longer do we live in a town that is small and quaint where everyone knows everyone.”

“I personally think it’s a good idea, but it’s important for polling places to have safety precautions in place to eliminate the possibility of voter fraud,” Ms. Dami said.

Led by Olivier E. Kozlowski, an attorney and Mansfield selectman, the proposed November 2012 ballot question was recently rejected by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. The decision was based on the grounds that it would be in violation of the Massachusetts Constitution, which prohibits interference with freedom of elections. Massachusetts Governor Deval L. Patrick has also voiced his opposition to the proposed ballot question.

A letter sent to Mr. Kozlowski from the Office of the Attorney General states that, “The proposed law would interfere with the freedom of elections not because it would require a government-issued photo identification to vote, but because there is no way for the average Massachusetts citizen to obtain such identification without paying a fee of at least $25.”

The ruling cites that requiring photo identification would, in effect, be a “voting fee,” and present an unconstitutional burden for those who do not have other identification, such as a driver’s license, and would not be able to afford the fee to obtain state-issued identification.

“We are not taking a stand on this issue, but we reviewed the petition to see if it passed the legal test, and it did not,” Brad Puffer, spokesman for Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, said in an interview this week.

Earlier this month Mr. Kozlowski appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and is moving forward with signature collection.

When informed of the Mashpee vote, Mr. Kozlowski said “That’s great,” and that he was not aware of any other municipality in Massachusetts that has backed his petition at the town government level.

Wayne R. Taylor, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he was happy to hear that Mashpee was the first town to support the initiative, and that he did not understand what all the “hubbub” was about. “You should have to prove that you’re a citizen at the polls,” he said, adding that it would be fairly easy for an illegal alien to cast a vote.

“It’s time for someone to step forward to address the illegal alien issue and deport them, but everyone wants to look the other way, thinking it will affect the result of state and presidential elections. If George Washington or Ben Franklin were alive today, they would be appalled. Go get an ID and you can vote,” Mr. Taylor said.

Mr. Kozlowski said to be successful the petition would need to be signed by 68,911 Massachusetts residents by November 23, although he would like more than 100,000 to provide a comfortable cushion in anticipation that some signatures would be challenged. If the signature goals are met, the court will decide the fate of the ballot question.

According to Mr. Kozlowski, he expects legislation will soon be introduced to provide free photo identification to Massachusetts residents, paving the way for the petition to reach the ballot next year.

“I’m going out now to pick up the sign-up sheets at the print shop,” Mr. Kozlowski said on Tuesday morning.

Voter identification laws, poll taxes, and literacy tests for voters have been controversial topics for decades, with many laws, primarily in southern states, overturned by courts who consider them a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states currently require all voters to show identification before voting at the polls. In 14 of those states, the identification must include a photograph of the voter, while in the remaining 16, including Rhode Island and Connecticut, non-photo identification is acceptable.

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