The Associated Press
OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Brad Henry on Wednesday vetoed a voter identification bill, saying it would have created “an unnecessary impediment” to voting and was in conflict with the Oklahoma Constitution.
“The right to vote is one of our most precious freedoms, guaranteed to all U.S. citizens regardless of their race, gender, religion, income level or social status, and policy makers must be especially careful when tinkering with this fundamental right,” Henry said in his veto message.
The Democratic governor said the Republican-sponsored bill could hamper a minority of voters, including some elderly and poor citizens, from having easy access to the ballot box.
Currently, voters’ names are listed on their local precinct’s registry and voters must identify themselves verbally and with a signature. No other form of verification is required.
Senate Bill 4, introduced by Sen. John Ford, R-Bartlesville, required voters to present a government-issued photo ID, or their county voter ID card.
The measure was opposed by such groups as the nonpartisan League of Women Voters and the American Association of Retired People. They cited projections that as many as 21 million registered voters — including 78,000 Oklahomans - do not have the required identification and could be negatively affected by voter ID bills.
Gloria Caldwell, president of the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, praised the veto. She said the bill would “effectively disenfranchise thousands” of state voters and created long lines at the polls.
She said it would have expended extra state dollars in an effort to fix a nonexistent problem of voter impersonation.
Instead of seeking to override Henry’s veto, House members quickly passed a bill, already approved by the Senate, to send the voter identification issue to a vote of the people at the 2010 general election.
“My reaction is one of disappointment because I truly believe that the majority of Oklahomans, regardless of political affiliation, believe voter ID is the right thing,” Ford said.
Ford said voters with no identification would not be disenfranchised, because they would be allowed to cast provisional ballots.
He said the proposal created “no extra expense or no extra effort” for Oklahomans to vote.
Henry said Oklahoma has a model state election system and “has operated without a taint of voter fraud.”
Ford has said his bill would be “a pre-emptive step to keep voter fraud from starting.”
The bill passed the House by a wide margin, but Ford said because of the close party-line vote in Senate, he favored passing his other bill calling for a statewide vote on the issue, instead of trying an override.
The Senate has 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats. It takes a two-third majority of both houses to override a veto.
The bill also contained a provision to expand early voting days in Oklahoma, a plan supported by Henry. He urged lawmakers to submit that proposal to him in separate legislation.