Rep. hopes high court ruling gives push to Mass. voter ID laws

Lindsey Parietti

State Rep. Karyn Polito, R-Shrewsbury, is hoping a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding photo identification requirements for voters will push Massachusetts to strengthen its own voter laws.

After the Supreme Court ruled Monday that a 2005 Indiana law designed to prevent voter fraud was constitutional, Polito is renewing her call for the state Legislature to reconsider a similar bill that she filed this session.

Indiana, Florida and Georgia are the only states that do not allow voters without photo identification to cast a regular ballot, according to the Pew Center on the States, a non-profit, nonpartisan research organization.

Instead, voters in those states are offered provisional ballots, which are only counted if election officials can later verify their identity.

Now Polito wants the Joint Election Laws Committee to re-examine her proposal to require all Massachusetts voters to present a state ID, driver's license or liquor ID card at the polls, legislation which the committee effectively killed in April.

"I urge the election law committee to take a fresh look at this and perhaps even hold another public hearing,'' she said. "There was a perception that the constitutionality was in question and maybe it wasn't taken as seriously as it could be now that that barrier has been removed.''

But opponents say that such laws are unfair hurdles that deter minorities, poor and elderly people from voting.

"Frankly our concern is about letting people who are legitimate voters vote, rather than prevent one or two problems. That would, in practice, disenfranchise hundreds if not thousands,'' said Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, a non-profit citizen's lobbying group.

Massachusetts is one of 23 states and the District of Columbia that have the minimum requirement of making first-time voters who register by mail show identification, either with or without a photo, when they cast their first ballot.

Most other states either allow non-photo identification or request voters without a picture ID to sign an affidavit.

"Looking at the numbers of 'D's' and 'R's' in Massachusetts, the chance of this kind of bill passing is pretty slim,'' said Dan Seligson, manager of, a Pew Center project. "It's almost universally opposed by Democrats and supported by Republicans.''

The Indiana law was pushed through by a Republican-controlled legislature.

In its current form, Polito's proposal would not provide free identification to those who can't afford it as Indiana does, but she said adding that provision could help remove objections.

"Both sides are making arguments that don't hold much water weight, either because there's a lack of data, or maybe because these things just don't happen,'' Seligson said. "There is no good data indicating that people commit voter fraud in any significant numbers at polling places, or that people are disenfranchised by voter ID laws.''

Although the Pew Center doesn't track the number of voter fraud cases, Seligson said it is far more likely that someone would cast multiple fraudulent absentee ballots rather than do it in front of police and poll workers.

Election Law Committee co-chairmen state Sen. Edward Augustus Jr., D-Worcester, and Rep. Garrett Bradley, D-Hingham, did not return calls Wednesdat for comment.

According to the State House News Service, Bradley said earlier this week he would likely pull Polito's bill and another related bill sponsored by Rep. Viriato deMacedo, R-Plymouth, out of study so that the committee could discuss them and possibly send them to the House floor this session.

MetroWest Daily News staff Lindsey Parietti can be reached at