A more than four-year legal challenge to overturn Oklahoma’s voter identification law was rejected earlier this week by a state district court judge who upheld the constitutionality of the measure.
Oklahoma County District Court Judge Aletia Haynes Timmons dismissed the case Monday after hearing arguments from lawyers representing the Oklahoma State Election Board and Tulsa resident Delilah Christine Gentges. Gentges’ attorney said he plans to appeal the decision.
Gentges sued after 74 percent of voters approved a state question in 2010 that requires every voter to show proof of identity issued by the U.S. government, Oklahoma state government or an Oklahoma tribal government.
Like in many other states that have passed similar laws, voter-rights advocates here argued the requirement is unconstitutional because it interferes with residents’ right to vote.
Tulsa attorney James Thomas, who represents Gentges, said the law also unfairly targets those who struggle to obtain or pay for a government identification, such as young voters, elderly voters, minorities and those living in poverty.
“We estimated in this case that there are more than one million people in Oklahoma without identification,” he said. “And the thing is when you make it harder to vote, people just stop voting.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Supporters of the measures say they are needed to prevent voter fraud and protect the integrity of elections. The remaining states use other methods to verify voter identity, such as signing an affidavit or providing personal information.
Many laws requiring an ID have been challenged and overturned. This includes federal court judges fully or partially overturning voter ID laws in Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina this summer.
In all of those cases, the states’ laws required voters without a valid ID to request a provisional ballot and take additional steps for their vote to be counted.
Oklahoma’s law is somewhat less strict. It allows voters with an ID to request a provisional ballot and prove their identity by signing a sworn affidavit. Their ballot is required to be verified later by election workers.
Lawyers for the state argued the law allows voters to cast a ballot without placing an undue burden on those who don’t have a valid ID or choose not to show one. The state also pointed out that every registered voter is given a free voter identification card that satisfies the requirements of the law.
“Thus, there is no circumstance under which a registered voter will not have the opportunity to vote,” lawyers for the Attorney General’s Office argued in a trial brief.
The state’s court filing also argued that voter ID laws “are a reasonable way to further the legitimate interest of detecting and deterring voter fraud.”
Thomas said he disagreed because the type of voter fraud that would be detected by voter ID laws hasn’t been a problem in Oklahoma. He added that voter ID laws are typically a tactic used in Republican-dominated states to keep voters who traditionally vote Democratic away from the ballot box.
“It’s a political decision, not a policy decision,” he said. “These are laws that make sense for Republicans because it helps Republicans win seats.”
Bryan Dean, a spokesman for the State Election Board, said there have been several cases of election fraud prosecuted in the state in recent years. However, he said he is not aware of any instance where the fraud was because of voter impersonation.
Monday’s decision came after a lengthy legal fight that initially saw another district court judge dismiss the case in 2012 by ruling that Gentges lacked standing to bring the challenge. That decision was overturned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 2014 and sent back to the district court level.