Voter ID law to be introduced in Illinois

Ann Knef Aug. 22, 2006, 1:22am

Making voters produce a picture ID before they can cast a vote is not designed to pick on minorities, according to a veteran Illinois legislator.

State Rep. Ron Stephens (R-Greenville) will introduce a proposal requiring state-issued identification cards be presented by voters at the polls. He is holding a press conference at 2 p.m. today at the St. Clair County Courthouse in Belleville.

The proposal, which would require voters have a driver's license or Secretary of State-issued identification card, is not meant to "make it difficult for the poor to vote," he said.

"How many people don't have an ID?" he said.

Proponents of photo IDs assert that it reduces voter fraud, but groups like the American Civil Liberties Union argue that it creates unfair hurdles for minorities.

Attorney John Kurowski of Belleville said he believes that any provision requiring a photo ID to vote is "likely unconstitutional."

Kurowski, who represents the East St. Louis Board of Elections Commissioners, said courts closely scrutinize cases involving access to the polls and have favored protecting the rights of poor people who may not possess a photo ID.

"It (the proposal) may be a violation of the Voting Rights Act," he said. "It may create a potential question whether the state would be in compliance with HAVA (Help America Vote Act)."

HAVA was enacted by Congress in 2002 to provide funds to states to replace punch card voting systems and to provide help with certain federal election laws and programs, among other things.

A U.S. appeals court recently upheld an injunction preventing the state of Georgia from enforcing a law requiring voters to show a state-issued ID card.

U.S. District Judge Harold L. Murphy said the law appeared to violate the Constitution. He likened the law to a "Jim Crow-era poll tax that required residents, most of them black, to pay back taxes before voting," according to a Washington Post article.

On the other hand, a federal judge upheld a voter ID law in Indiana in April.

In Missouri, a state court judge has combined two lawsuits in Cole County Circuit Court filed by opponents of a new voter ID law signed into law in June.

The suits allege that the law violates Missouri's constitution by imposing unfunded mandates on local election authorities and by inserting obstacles depriving Missourians of their right to vote.

Allegations of voter fraud have circulated for years in St. Clair County.

In June 2005, five Democratic politicians from East St. Louis were convicted by a federal jury on vote fraud charges.

Democratic Party chairman Charles Powell Jr., 61, and Kelvin Ellis, 55, the city's former director of regulatory affairs, of felony conspiracy to commit vote fraud. Also convicted were Democratic precinct committee members Sheila Thomas, 31, and Jesse Lewis, 56, and City Hall worker Yvette Johnson, 46.

Ellis, Thomas, Lewis and Johnson also were convicted of one count of election fraud for allegedly paying at least one person to vote, or offering to do so.

During a month-long trial, prosecutors, argued, among other things, that money flowed from St. Clair County Democrats to East St. Louis Democrats to ensure the election of Mark Kern in a close race for County Board chairman.

East St. Louis is unique in that it has its own election board, separate from the county apparatus.

Kern defeated Republican Steve Reeb because of the overwhelming support he received from Democratic voters in East St. Louis. Reeb, however, won in the county outside of East St. Louis.

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