Election lesson: Oregon doesn't require ID

Election lesson: Oregon doesn't require ID
A file photo of the American flag, courtesy of the Associated Press.

PORTLAND, Ore. – The "Help America Vote Act," created eight years ago and signed by then-President Bush, requires certain forms of identification for voters to cast a ballot in federal elections, such as federal Senate races and America's President.

Under federal law that identification could be a current driver's license or state ID, a current government-related bill or paycheck listing name and address, or another government document – such as a voter card – with name and current address.

That is not the case in Oregon.

"As of right now, Oregon does not have an identification requirement," said Tim Scott at the Multnomah County Elections office. "Therefore we cannot treat those folks any differently than the folks who do provide identification on state and local races."

Indeed, Oregon's online voter registration requirements state simply that "[i]f you do not have a current, valid Oregon DMV Driver's License/ID or a Social Security number, you must affirm this on the voter registration card." Only when registering by mail must voters provide a copy of their ID.

The issue of proving citizenship has been tested recently in federal court. In late October, a federal appeals court ruled against a 2004 Arizona law that required those registering to vote to prove their American citizenship. However, that ruling also allowed Arizona to continue requiring that residents show identification before voting.

How it works in Oregon
In Oregon, anyone who has a local address can vote. And in Multnomah County, about 3,500 registered voters fall into this category.

"No ID" voters are still validated by the local elections offices – just like everyone else. Scott says they must still sign a sworn affidavit swearing they are who they say they are.

They also must prove they have a local residence. Elections offices verify that address by sending mail, such as ballots, to the registered voter's home. Post office box addresses are not allowed.

"We have a residential address for them," Scott said. "By that, we have been able to verify through sending mail to them. That's part of the process. If we can't get a piece of mail to them – and therefore get a ballot to them – we would inactivate them."

However, in Oregon nothing else is required.

What happens next?
To be sure, those who lie in the affidavit or provide a false residence could face a felony conviction. The Oregon Department of Justice has the power to prosecute election illegalities, including convictions of up to five years in prison, a $125,000 fine and – when appropriate – deportation, according to an editorial from Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown.

And Scott says only about 400 of Multnomah County's 3,500 "no ID" voters actually cast a ballot in the Nov. 2, 2010, election.

Ballots from voters with only the affidavit and proof of local residence on file are simply not counted in federal election results. This was the case in the Nov. 2 election, when hundreds of ballots were allowed in local and state races in Oregon but were not counted in Tuesday's federal election totals.

Meanwhile, the ballot signatures of all voters – including the "no ID" voters – are still validated by local elections offices. That's done by comparing the signatures on incoming ballots to the signatures on record.

Scott says he does not believe this no-ID system has compromised the integrity of the elections here in Oregon. In many cases, insiders say, those who fall into this list have simply moved into the state and have yet to get a new driver's license or state ID.

KATU Investigative Reporter Thom Jensen contributed to this report.