ACLU-WVa official pushes back on voter ID law

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HARRISON COUNTY, W.Va (WDTV) - UPDATE Correction: The original version of this article stated that there have been no documented cases of voter fraud in the state. According to the Secretary of State's office, two people have been prosecuted for voter fraud in the last six months. 5 News regrets the error.

The policy director of the ACLU of West Virginia says he fears the new voter ID law in the state will discourage some people from voting.

"It's unfortunately people usually on the margins of society," Eli Baumwell argued. "Elderly who don't have driver's licenses, never bothered to get a photo ID, maybe limited with mobility, people who are in low-income situations, people who can't get IDs, and see that a law's passed and don't even try voting."

The law, which was passed by the state legislature in 2016 and went into effect Monday, requires people to present proof of identification at the polls.

Baumwell and other critics, though, acknowledge that the law is relatively gentile compared to similar ones in other states.

Under the law, 18 different types of documents are considered valid, regardless of whether it has a photo.

For example, a person can present a driver's license, passport, or even a fishing license. But voters can also show a nongovernment document, like a bank card.

"We have to have a driver's license in order to drive a vehicle," said Guy Ward, a Republican member of the House of Delegates. "And I think that voting is much more important than driving a vehicle. So I think there's nothing wrong with identification for that purpose."

Ward takes the position that many who support voter ID laws voice: this will help clamp down on voter fraud.

"There's been some speculation that there's been voter fraud in some counties in the southern part of the state," Ward remarked. "But I don't really know too much about that."

5 News called the Secretary of State's office to ask about Ward's claims. A spokesperson told us that due to state code, he could not disclose whether any investigations into voter fraud cases exist.

He added that the secretary of state has removed more than 80,000 outdated or ineligible names of voters from the voter rolls, but that the old lists didn't translate into widespread voter fraud.

Instead, the spokesperson said, these efforts, coupled with the new law, are a part of a proactive approach to ensure the integrity of the voting system is upheld.

While Baumwell concedes the list of criteria under the law is comprehensive, he says this was an unnecessary endeavor.

"It's based on the completely incorrect assumption that there's widespread voter impersonation fraud occurring," he said. "And again, there's absolutely no evidence that any of that is occurring."

Baumwell does applaud the secretary of state's office on its education campaign to inform voters about the new law. That part of the conversation is in the video above.