Mark Goins is the Coordinator of Elections in the Tennessee Secretary of State’s Office. He’s also guy in charge of educating Tennessee voters about the state’s new voter identification requirement. While other states have hired outside public relations firms to get the word out about the regulation, he’s been doing everything in-house. That includes outreach to specific communities statistically less likely to have a form of photo identification which meets the new requirements, which was conducted by members of his staff on top of their other responsibilities.
“I’ve got a younger person in the office, he’s in his 20s, so he was kind of coordinating the college voters, so that was kind of his job,” Goins told TPM. “I’ve got a minority, well I hate to use the word minority, but I’ve got a person of color within the office who was the minority outreach, if you will, if you use that term. She was the person who went to some NAACP meetings.”
As several states prepare to implement voter ID laws passed by their legislatures in November, TPM’s interviews with elections officials show that education efforts are all over the map.In Kansas, for example, Secretary of State Kris Kobach has launched GotVoterID.com — a campaign playing off the California Milk Processor Board’s famous “Got Milk?” campaign — and given a $310,000 contract to a marketing firm to create the visuals for the website and advertisement effort. In Pennsylvania, the state’s Republican administration gave a $249,660 contract to a lobbying firm run by the former head of the state GOP.
States like Rhode Island, Mississippi and Tennessee, on the other hand, are mostly skipping out on ad campaigns and banking on media coverage and town hall meetings to inform their voters about new regulations.
While the state-funded efforts will be boosted by informational campaigns run by civil rights organizations and voter registration groups, voting rights advocates believe eligible voters who lack the type of photo identification required by the bills will be turned away.
“Based on what we know, we have not seen any state efforts that are adequate to educate voters in this short amount of time,” Penda Hair of the Advancement Project told TPM. “But I think even more importantly, even if a voter finds out that they have to get this ID, that doesn’t mean they’re going to be able to do it — they still have to get a copy of their birth certificate, pay the cost, go to a DMV that may not even exist in their county.”
One study by the Brennan Center found that nationwide, up to five million traditionally Democratic voters could be affected by the new state laws.
“The fact that they do some advertisements to let you know you’re subject to a poll tax doesn’t stop it from being a poll tax,” Hair said.
Public information campaigns about the voter ID law are in limbo in Texas and South Carolina, where the Justice Department has blocked the legislation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (Attorney General Eric Holder decried voter ID laws as “poll taxes” earlier this week). In Wisconsin, where two state judges issued injunctions blocking the voter ID law from being enforced, a public information campaign called “Bring It To The Ballot” is also on hold.
Here’s a rundown of what other states have been doing to get the word out.
Goins, the coordinator of elections in Tennessee, said his office has partnered with the AARP, worked with churches and distributed over a million handouts about the voter ID law. He said Tennessee was in a good position because the legislature passed the ID law far ahead of the election.
“We were very fortunate, the media did a wonderful job of educating the public — there were several hundred articles that were written about the law from the get-go,” Goins said. “If I were in a situation where I didn’t have that window, I would want some money appropriated to get the word out.”
Goins said that even groups that didn’t support the voter ID law, like the NAACP and the League of Women voters, have helped get the word out.
“Some folks who did not support the law, once it passed, they realized it was the law and they wanted to make sure people knew about the law,” Goins said.
But the state told Facing South that 20,923 state IDs for voting purposes had been issued to citizens in Tennessee, a figure that only covers 17 percent of seniors “who are registered to vote but who, according to state records, lack photos on their driver’s licenses, potentially leaving as many as 100,000 citizens aged 60 and up without the needed identification to vote.”
A man named Doug Ballou of the Kansas City public relations company Whitworth Ballou LLC is in charge of the contract to educate Kansas voters. The phone number listed on the contract, dated Oct. 20, is disconnected and the firm’s website is no longer in operation.
Under the contract, the firm is supposed to “ensure that all Kansas citizens are reached by the campaign, particularly minority populations and populations that may not be reached by conventional advertisements and public service announcements.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kobach — who ran his campaign on preventing voter fraud (and claimed a living voter was dead) — has been hitting the road for “Kobach’s Voter ID Tour, aimed at informing voters of the requirement.
Proponents of the increased voter identification restrictions often point to Rhode Island as proof that the laws are not simply a Republican plank. Rhode Island, which maintains a heavily Democratic legislature, has implemented a system of transitional voter identification regulations, which will still allow voters to allow provisional ballots if they do not present proper identification.
Rob Rock, who works in the Office of Elections, said that his office has thus far visited 70 communities across the state since January, bringing a series of fliers and regulation booklets explaining the new regulations. Rock also noted that the office will travel to more sites in September and November, and will include information on the regulations in the voter referenda, which will detail the multiple ballots and resolutions placed on the upcoming ballot.
The state will also unfurl a series of multimedia educational outreach programs “closer to the election,” according to Chris Barnett, communications director for the Secretary of State, but that a budget had not yet been finalized. Barnett noted while the creative process has not yet begun, he believes all decision-making would remain in-house.
Like Rhode Island, Mississippi passed its voter identification with a large contingent of Democrats in its state legislature. The requirements are still pending federal approval, but the state has opted for a “proactive, rather than reactive approach,” according to Pamela Weaver, spokeswoman for the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.
Weaver noted that the state has sent over 5,000 posters and 10,000 postcards explaining the requirements to residents and associations across the state. She also said her office disbursed radio PSAs to numerous stations across the state, asking the stations to play the ads “at their convenience.”
While only 75 individuals contacted the state in response — with only 35 requiring new state-issued IDs — Weaver said she was happy to have begun the educational process before the law was fully implemented. “Once the requirement is approved in court, we will already by one step ahead,” she said.
Casey Michel contributed