Surveys Find New ID Checks Threaten to Disenfranchise Voters

April 13, 2004

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Contact Information:
Kele Williams, 917 751-7875
Jeremy Creelan, 212 992-8642
Blair Horner, 518 436-0876

Surveys Find New ID Checks Threaten to Disenfranchise Voters
Separate Brennan Center for Justice and NYPIRG Surveys Find County Boards of Elections Need Immediate Guidance About New ID Requirements

Albany, NY—Two new reports released today by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) found that county boards of elections across the state do not fully understand the new federally mandated voter identification requirements and are poised to disenfranchise voters unwittingly as a result.

“The State Board of Elections has not provided county boards with the guidance they need to implement these complex new ID requirements and voters will suffer as a result,” said Kele Williams, co-author of the report and Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center. “Our survey of Election Commissioners and Deputy Commissioners found that only 18 out of 45 counties surveyed (40%) correctly responded that only first-time voters who registered by mail are subject to the new identification requirements.” Even more disturbing is the fact that the Brennan Center survey was conducted just one week after the State Board held a training session for county officials on implementation of the new federal law.

The NYPIRG study found that few county boards of elections are accurately informing affected voters of their right to present a wide variety of forms of identification at the polls on Election Day. Only 9 of New York’s 58 local Boards of Elections (16%) gave substantially complete and correct information to surveyors calling to ask what types of identification would be accepted at the polls. “Too many of New York’s local boards of elections are giving out incomplete and inaccurate information to voters about their rights at the polls,” said Neal Rosenstein, Election Reform Coordinator of NYPIRG. “The State Board of Elections needs to do a better job of issuing guidelines that make sure New Yorkers won’t face problems on Election Day,” he added.

Both surveys also revealed that there is a wide disparity of information being given out to New Yorkers who call their local board of elections from county to county. Both the Brennan Center for Justice and NYPIRG cited the need for immediate action by the State Board of Elections. The groups presented a model set of guidelines and an expansive list of ID they urged the state Board of Elections to adopt and distribute to county boards that would ensure that voters’ rights are respected at the polls (see attached). 

Other significant findings in the two surveys include:

Brennan Center

  • Officials in eight counties indicated that they would only accept Drivers Licenses or Social Security Cards, in plain violation of HAVAs requirement that counties also accept a current and valid photo identification or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, pay check, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.
  • Officials in at least eight counties indicated that they were unsure which forms of identification would be acceptable, and officials in only four counties indicated that they possessed a list of acceptable government documents for election workers and voters. Unlike New York, other states like California have issued a comprehensive, though not exclusive, list of specific documents that must be accepted under HAVA.
  • When asked about specific forms of identification, officials in 10 counties indicated that they would not accept student identification cards; officials in seven counties indicated that they would not accept Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) cards or public housing identification cards; and officials in six counties indicated that they would not accept government employee identification cards.
  • While most counties plan to send new registrants letters advising them of these requirements, only 12 counties indicated plans to educate voters about the new identification requirements through local media and other means.
  • HAVA requires that all new registrants provide either a Drivers License Number or the last four digits of a Social Security number. But HAVA also makes clear that the registrants failure to provide the identification information does not void the voters effort to register but requires election officials to assign a unique identifying number. Officials from at least 15 counties expressed their uncertainty as to how to handle registration applications that do not have either of the two identification numbers. At least one county intends not to register such applicants.

NYPIRG

  • 24 Boards of Elections (41%) incorrectly identified only a driver’s license, non-driver ID, social security card or social security numbers as being HAVA compliant forms of ID.
  • Eight Counties incorrectly told surveyors that no voters would be required to show ID at the polls on Election Day. (Chautauqua, Erie, Herkimer, Monroe, Niagara, Oswego, Ostego and Ulster)
  • Many county boards seem confused or unsure about HAVA’s ID provisions. 16 boards answered they were unsure of the answers to certain basic questions.
  • The Orange County Board of Elections incorrectly stated that impacted voters would not have the opportunity to show ID at the polls and would be forced to vote by affidavit (paper) ballot. Schoharie County also indicated that some voters would not be given the chance to show ID at the polls and would be forced to vote by affidavit ballot.
  • Out of 58 boards surveyed, only 13 indicated that student IDs would be accepted as a current and valid form of ID. Seventeen counties said student IDs were not acceptable (The remaining counties were unsure, replied ‘possibly’ or incorrectly responded that no one would be subject to ID checks this fall.) These answers raise the possibility that students will be presented with additional obstacles to voting on Election Day.

The NYPIRG survey, “Right Number, but the Wrong Answer,” involved phone calls to each of New York State’s 58 local boards of elections in an effort to determine what information was being given out to voters about the imposition of identification checks at the polls for this year’s elections. The Brennan Centers survey involved phone calls to 57 county boards of elections outside of New York City to ask which voters would be subject to ID checks, which forms of ID would be accepted, what efforts were being undertaken to educate voters, and what would happen in the case of voters who could not provide ID. A copy of the survey questions are attached as Tab A to the survey. Complete results were obtained for 45 boards.

While the groups were dismayed at the responses they received from county boards of elections, they placed responsibility with the State Board for failing to train and guide them as required under the law.

“The State Board of Elections cannot afford to wait until the last minute to provide meaningful guidance to county election officials seeking to implement these new provisions” said Jeremy Creelan, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center. “Their failure to act now means that voters in Buffalo, Binghamton and the Bronx might all face different ID requirements, unequal treatment and possible discrimination at the polls on election day,” he added.

The two organizations also pressed the State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to follow through on their promise to convene a legislative conference committee to resolve many of these issues in their HAVA implementation bills.

For more information, please contact Natalia Kennedy at (212) 998-6736. To access the NYPIRG survey please click here. To access the Brennan Center survey please click here.
Please click the following links for more information about the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program,
Voting & Representation project and HAVA initiatives.

NYPIRG is New York States largest student directed research and advocacy non-profit organization primarily focused on environmental preservation, consumer protection, government reform and public health issues.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law develops and implements a nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms. Please contact Natalia Kennedy at (212) 998-6736 to schedule interviews or for more information. Please also visit www.brennancenter.org.