“Legitimate Voters Blocked by Photo ID Laws” read the headline of a July 10 Associated Press article. Sounds pretty damning. It turns out, though, that the article lacked key information about two Indiana voters that might have changed the whole tenor of the story. The reporter, Mike Baker, failed to reveal that the voters in question actually have photo IDs and have used them in previous elections.
Baker started off with what seemed like a frustrating story about two elderly Indiana voters approaching 90 years old, Edward and Mary Weidenbener, who were unable to vote in Indiana’s May primary. Why? Supposedly because “they didn’t realize that state law required them to bring government photo IDs such as a driver’s license or passport.”
This assertion was not true at all, it was later determined.
According to the AP, the Weidenbeners had to use a temporary ballot that would be verified later, which they failed to do. Edward Weidenbener, a World War II veteran, was quoted as saying that he was surprised by the rules and consequences, and because “a lot of people don’t have a photo ID, they’ll be automatically disenfranchised.”
There are some glaring problems with Baker’s story. First of all, Indiana’s law has been in place since 2006. There have been numerous federal, state and local elections in the state since then. How could the Weidenbeners not know about the voter ID requirement? Had they voted in prior elections? Did Baker ask them these basic questions? And when voters are given provisional ballots because they showed up at the polling place without an ID, they are specifically informed that they have 10 days to provide election officials with an ID so that their vote will be counted.
The Office of the Indiana Secretary of State was extremely concerned about the story. So General Counsel Jerold Bonnet did some checking of state records and even called the Weidenbeners to talk to them.
It turned out that the AP had left out significant information. Baker, for example, never said a word about whether or not these elderly voters had photo IDs. Since he makes no mention of that issue, anyone reading the story is left with the impression that they do not. It turns out that not only do the Weidenbeners both have valid Indiana driver’s licenses, but they also have passports, according to the Office of the Indiana Secretary of State.
Either of those IDs is acceptable under Indiana’s law. Contrary to the AP story, they told the Office of the Secretary of State that they were well aware of the voter ID requirement and had voted in prior elections in Indiana, since the voter ID became effective after showing their photo IDs at their polling place.
Although the Weidenbeners apparently forgot to bring their IDs to their polling place for the May primary, they live in a retirement community with an assisted living center, a communal dining and activity facility, and a number of detached houses for independent living. Their polling place is located within the assisted living center, adjacent to the dining room. It is so close to where they live that the Weidenbeners usually walk over to the dining room for meals. Thus, it would have been easy for them to have returned to their home to get their IDs, then gone back to their poll to vote an actual ballot. This is all information the AP could have easily found out.
Instead, however, the Wedienbeners cast a provisional ballot. Their home is only 2.24 miles from the county courthouse where they could have gone after the election to show their photo IDs so that their provisional ballots would have counted. And transportation would not have been a problem; they could get there via their own car, a city bus, or a community shuttle bus. But the Weidenbeners claim they weren’t told that they needed to show an ID to officials after the election in order for their provisional ballot to be counted.
But the Indiana state form that is given to all provisional voters specifically informs them that they must appear before county election officials no later than noon on the second Friday after election day either with an ID or to sign an affidavit that they are exempt from the ID requirement because they are “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without the payment of a fee, or that you have a religious objection to being photographed.” The AP also neglected to mention that since the Weidenbeners are over 65, they could vote by absentee ballot without an ID.
As Jerold Bonnet says, either the reporter “did not do a good job of investigating and gathering information, or he was very selective in what he chose to report.” The story appeared on the eve of the trial in federal district court in Washington over the Justice Department’s challenge to the Texas voter ID law. Many newspapers and media outlets all over the country picked it up, including the Austin Statesman and the Miami Herald. Bonnet notified both newspapers of the problems in the AP story. Neither ran a correction.
Baker also omitted the fact that the actual turnout results in elections in Indiana since 2006 completely contradict the false narrative that voter ID prevents anyone from voting, particularly minorities or Democrats. The turnout increased dramatically in Indiana after the ID law took effect and increased at a larger rate than many states without photo ID. In fact, Indiana had the largest increase in Democratic turnout of any state in the country in 2008, and Barack Obama won the state -- information that did not appear in the story.
Too many members of the media are promulgating a completely false narrative about a common-sense election reform that the American people overwhelmingly support. It’s high time for the full story about voter ID to be accurately reported.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org) and a former member of the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department counsel. He is the co-author (with John Fund) of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books, August 2012).