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Reports of confusion, frustration over voter ID law after Tuesday primary

Some Michigan voters were wrongly turned away from the polls last Tuesday after refusing to affirm their US citizenship.

But some other voters—and an elections watchdog group—say they also encountered problems with misguided enforcement of the state’s voter ID law.

Jennifer Gariepy she walked to her polling place in Warren to vote without photo ID. She said poll workers there told her she couldn’t vote without one—even though state law allows people without ID to vote, if they sign a legal affidavit affirming their identity.

“And [I said], ‘No! That’s not right. You can’t refuse me a ballot,’” Gariepy recalled.

Gariepy said the poll workers relented after awhile, and she did get did to vote--eventually. “I had to insist,” she said. “They weren’t about to volunteer that.”

Hundreds of similar reports came into an election protection hotline last Tuesday, says Jocelyn Benson, head of the Michigan Center for Election Law.

Benson, a former Secretary of State candidate, said there’s no evidence anyone was actually turned away from the polls due to a lack of ID.

“But we do know of many voters who were discouraged, frustrated, and dealt with similar frustration back-and-forths with poll workers, because they were trying to assert their rights,” she added.

The voter ID law has been in place since 2007, and no policies or directives have changed since then, according to Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for Secretary of State Ruth Johnson.

“I can tell you that no policies or direction from the Secretary of State’s Office has changed regarding the use photo ID or the affidavit people may sign if they don’t have acceptable photo ID,” wrote Woodhams in an e-mail.

Woodhams said the Secretary of State’s officeissued clear directives to local clerks and voters about their rights under the law. And he said the office hasn’t received any formal complaints about any of these incidents involving ID, though he acknowledged that misunderstandings may have occurred on the local level.

“Ruth Johnson fully supports the current law that allows people without a photo ID to vote if they sign the affidavit,” Woodhams wrote.

Benson says the Michigan Center for Election Law is compiling a report of the hundreds of complaints they received from the Tuesday primary. That information is set to be released next week.

State Republicans had pushed for a law that would have made photo ID mandatory in order to vote, but Governor Snyder vetoed it last month.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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