Runner, R-Lancaster, has proposed a ballot initiative that, if approved by California voters in November 2010, would require voters to show a drivers license or other government-issued photo ID before being given a ballot. Local latino leaders said the initiative could create problems and is a clear attempt at supressing latino voters.
"People see the writing on the wall," said Gil Navarro, a latino activist and member of the San Bernardino County Board of Education. "They see ... that the demographics are changing, that the latino population is increasing and becoming more politically astute. They're becoming registered voters, and that's scaring people like Runner."
Runner said there's no motive behind the initiative beyond ensuring the sanctity of the state's electoral process and enfranchising more of the state's military personnel. Along with requiring voters to show ID at the polls, Runner's VoteSAFE initiative would require the DMV to issue photo IDs to voters who cannot afford a drivers license and allow more time for absentee ballots from troops overseas to be counted.
"I don't get the idea that someone would be supressed if all they have to do is walk to the DMV," Runner said. "And the people who live in our society without IDs,
He noted that, when registering to vote, voters are already required to provide either a California drivers license number or the last four digits of their social security number.
To be placed on the November 2010 ballot, Runner and other VoteSAFE proponents will have until May 6 to gather about 434,000 signatures from registered California voters. Proponents haven't started circulationg petitions yet because of a potential legal battle with the state attorney general's office.
VoteSAFE hasn't received financial backing, but Runner has a track record of getting initiatives on the ballot. He was one of the authors of 2008's Safe Neighborhoods Act, which made it to the ballot and failed, and 2006's lamdmark Jessica's Law, which passed.
The initiative's opponents have called VoteSAFE a "solution looking for a problem," saying there's no evidence of widespread fraud involving people posing as other voters at polling places - the kind of fraud the initiative would prevent.
But Runner said there's no evidence - other than anecodtal evidence about votes from the deceased - because it's a difficult crime to investigate and prosecute, not because it never happens.
"It isn't rocket science to commit voter fraud in California," he said. "You go to the polling place, you find someone's name that doesn't have a line through it and you say you're that person. There's no requirement to demonstrate you're that person."
Once such a crime occurs, Runner said, it's difficult or impossible to know who the fraudlent voter was.
"District attorneys, with limited resources, are not going to go after these people," Runner said.
Bobbi Jo Chavarria, a member of the ACORN organizing committee in Fontana and a candidate for mayor in that city, said VoteSAFE could lead to racial profiling at the polls.
"If you're walking in with blond hair and blue eyes, you might not get ID'd," she said. "But if you're a person of color or you have a Spanish surname, you're definiting going to be (asked for ID)."
She said the initiative's "sole purpose is to disenfranchise voters." Along with possible profiling, she said it could slow the voting process down, making it more difficult or onerous for people who vote on their way to work.
And Navarro said the proposed law raises other concerns, such as whether poll workers would have the authority to reject a voter because of an old photo or a misspelled name.
"It's ludicrous," Navarro said. "And we in the latino community will do everything to ensure that it doesn't get on the ballot, or will fail if it does."