ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In an early sign of Republican muscle-flexing in the reordered Alaska Legislature, an Anchorage House member says he plans to revive a dormant bill to require Alaskans to show a photo ID to vote.
"It'll be one of the first bills we hear," said Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
Voter photo ID laws in other states were hugely controversial in this fall's national elections because poor, elderly and minorities are less likely than other voters to have photo identification like a driver license; those same groups are also more likely to vote Democratic. Judges in two states with strict photo ID requirements, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, held off enforcement of those laws, at least for this election.
Photo ID laws have been pushed as a way to prevent voter fraud by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national organization that promotes conservative model legislation.
In Alaska, where photo-bearing licenses aren't even necessary to drive in 294 villages, towns and communities off the highway system, such a requirement could affect thousands of voters.
"That's going to be depriving a lot of people from the opportunity to vote," said Myron Naneng, president of the Association of Village Council Presidents in Bethel. "For the state to say that they require an ID in order to allow people to vote, that's a bunch of BS -- strictly BS."
Lynn introduced a photo voter ID law, House Bill 162, in 2011. Even though it was referred to his own committee and the House Judiciary Committee, where he served as a member, it never got a hearing during the two-year life of the 27th Legislature.
"It didn't get a hearing because I had other priorities," Lynn said in a recent interview.
But even if Lynn's bill had passed the Republican-dominated House, it would have faced a skeptical review in the Senate, where Democrats in the ruling bipartisan coalition were chairmen and vice chairmen of both the Senate State Affairs Committee and Senate Judiciary Committee.
Not any more.
For the 2012 election, the Republican-dominated Redistricting Board changed the election map and voters changed the Legislature. Enough Republicans were elected to the Senate that they were able to form their own majority for the 28th Legislature, set to convene Jan. 15. Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, is the incoming chairman of State Affairs. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, will chair the Judiciary Committee. Both are strong conservatives and members of ALEC, as is Lynn.
Lynn said he wasn't using a model ALEC bill, but he "may do some research with ALEC materials."
Lynn says the latest version of his bill is being drafted by the Legislature's legal staff and is not yet final. His previous bill would have required the Elections Division or some other agency to issue free picture ID cards to anyone who lacked one and is "indigent." The bill left intact current law allowing an election official who knows a voter to waive the picture ID requirement and would allow someone without proper ID to vote a questioned ballot.
Lynn said he knows of no cases of someone assuming the identity of another to commit voter fraud in Alaska but thought it was wise "to take precautions."
"I think precautions are prudent to guard the electoral process," he said. "The electoral process is one of the most important things that we have, from the president all the way down to the state House."