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November 4, 2012

Locals say voter ID laws not impacting turnout

Immigrants still struggling through naturalization process instead.

LOGANSPORT — While the expected large numbers of Cass County voters flock to voting stations, locals say the state’s strict voter ID laws are not having much of an impact on voter turnout and registration.

Although the county party organizations are divided on their opinions of the state’s strict voter ID laws, poll workers say they have not had problems with voters being turned away. Local Democrats suggest that the votes from area immigrants will aid them in Tuesday’s election.

Under an Indiana law that has been in the effect since 2006, government-issued photo IDs are required at the election polls in what lawmakers say is an effort to prevent voter fraud. However, Democrats allege that the laws will unfairly affect minorities, who studies have shown are less likely to have a government-issued photo ID.

The county does not keep track of race statistics for registered voters because there is no designated section on the voter registration, according to Cass County Clerk Beth Liming. But she said the law had not caused any problems so far.

Poll worker Judy Lewis said Friday that voters were required to show their government-issued voter ID and then poll workers scan the back of the card to make sure the information matches up with the records in the county’s computer system.

“It’s another step of verifying,” Lewis said.

If there is a problem verifying the ballot, poll worker Stella Pearson said the workers invite the voters to cast a provisional ballot, and then the county election board will later determine whether the ballot should be counted.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Pearson said.

Tom Weatherwax, vice chairman of the Cass County Republican Party, said he believes the voter ID law is a fair way to prevent voter fraud and does not unfairly target anyone.

“You have to prove that you’re a citizen and that applies to each and every one of us,” Weatherwax said.

But Cass County Democratic Chair Paul Ulerick said while he believes voter fraud may be a problem in large cities, it’s not as much of a problem in areas like Cass County. Ulerick suggested that lawmakers should reconsider the law.

“It should be as easy as possible to vote, not as hard as possible to vote,” Ulerick said.

Speaking for the Hispanic workers at the local Tyson factory, Juan Garcia, a union representative, said he had heard no complaints.

“I haven’t heard anybody mention anything about the law,” Garcia said.

He added that the union held a registration drive to register eligible workers.

“We signed up as many people as we could,” Garcia said.

The only frustration Garcia has heard is from workers who can’t vote because they’re in the process of applying for citizenship.

“Obviously they feel bad that they can’t vote because they’re not a citizen yet,” Garcia said.

Similarly, Mang Khai, a Burmese translator at Tyson’s facility, said most of the 700 Burmese workers at the plant aren’t able to vote because they’re not yet citizens. Khai said he was in the process of becoming a citizen, but that he did not believe the application would be granted in time for the election.

“That made me really upset and frustrated,” he said.

Khai said voting is very important to the Burmese workers because it will be the first time that they’re able to vote in a democratic election.

“We have a very crucial and important thing to do to choose our own president from our own will,” Khai said.

The same applies to voting in the local elections, Khai said.

“We would support the best candidate,” Khai said. “That would be very, very good for the country and the city of Logansport in the near future.”

Looking toward the next election, Ulerick said he believes registered immigrant voters will give a boost to local Democrats.

“I would think it would tend to do that,” Ulerick said. “Democrats are more open-armed to welcome people to our country.”

Weatherwax argued the Republican Party would benefit.

“I think that they represent a new voter bloc in our country, and in our part of the world here in Cass County, we welcome all those people,” Weatherwax said.

Khai predicted the Burmese turnout would eventually become a significant factor in local elections.

“By the next election, I hope about 1,000 Burmese will be voting,” he said. “There will be big change by the next election.”

Caitlin Huston is a staff reporter of the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached at 574-732-5148 or caitlin.huston@pharostribune.com.

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