New ID law didn't greatly hamper voters

Impact small » Few provisional ballots cast as a result of ID problems.
This is an archived article that was published on in 2009, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While a new state law may have forced Salt Lake County residents to fetch a driver license, passport or even a concealed weapon permit from home before setting out to vote in last week's election, it prevented only a handful of voters valleywide from casting traditional ballots.

The Salt Lake County Clerk's Office has confirmed only 13 cases of voters having to pick their candidates by provisional ballot because they didn't have the proper identification to vote electronically -- a tiny portion of the 1,300 provisional ballots cast countywide.

Those residents had until Monday to present a valid ID to their county clerk or city recorder to have their votes counted.

It's the not-so-staggering aftermath of a new state law that uses stricter voter identification standards to prevent fraud and ensure that mistakes aren't made at the polls in confirming people's identities. So voters now must present a photo ID or two forms of identification -- such as a utility bill, hunting license or paycheck -- that proves their name and address.

"It really is not a big hassle," said Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, who championed the measure. "The level of security to our voting system is worth a few people having to retrieve their driver's licenses."

What the county's numbers don't account for is the number of prospective voters who were turned away from the polls because of ID problems and never returned -- a scenario Deputy Clerk Jason Yocom heard anecdotally from poll workers.

Yocom said the impact of the state's new voting rules, although seemingly miniscule when looking at this year's provisional ballots, may become more pronounced during a general election when three or four times as many people show up.

Voter turnout was 18 percent last week -- the lowest in more than a decade. Only 1,300 provisional ballots were cast, compared to more than 20,000 during the 2008 presidential election.

"Even if only one voter is turned away for not having ID," Yocom said, "then the state has done a disservice to that voter."

Kirk Jowers, director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics and acting chairman of the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy, agrees that electoral headaches caused by the new law could become more pronounced in a general election. Not only will more people cast votes, but that larger electorate probably will be less-committed and less-knowledgeable about the voting process.

However, he believes those protections against voter fraud -- which may have taken the state a step backward in election accessibility -- may have provided the necessary groundwork for taking the state two steps forward.

The Governor's Commission on Strengthening Democracy recently recommended reforms to Utah's election system that would allow for voter registration on Election Day, and automatic updates to voter registration records when someone changes addresses. The commission, Jowers said, likely would not have endorsed those changes unanimously without the new ID rules.

By the numbers

518,448 -- Number of registered voters in Salt Lake County

93,338 -- Votes tallied during last week's election.

1,300 -- Number of provisional ballots cast.

13 -- Provisional ballots handed in because of voter ID problems.