LAWRENCE — Community activist Wayne Hayes has left the effort to recall Mayor William Lantigua to focus on the statewide Voter ID initiative.
"I am still gathering information but this has been my passion since (Lantigua) got into office," Hayes said yesterday.
The Voter ID initiative, if approved by Massachusetts voters, would require residents to show government-issued photo identification at the polls every time they go to vote.
Hayes, who worked with dozens of other volunteers to collect voter signatures in an attempt to remove Lantigua from office this summer, said Voter ID is crucial in Lawrence, where allegations of voter fraud have swirled for years.
Past city elections prompted reports of people being bused in to Lawrence to vote, dead men showing up at the polls and people walking in to vote in place of others. But, to date, no one has ever been charged or prosecuted for election-related offenses.
Recall workers collected 4,366 of the necessary 5,232 signatures to recall Lantigua. After working on that effort, Hayes said he now believes more than 7,000 of the city's 35,359 voters are not U.S. citizens and are not legally entitled to vote.
"At least 20 percent of the registered voters are not citizens but they are still voting," said Hayes, a resident of the city's Mt. Vernon neighborhood in South Lawrence. Hayes has lived in Lawrence for a decade and before that for 20 years in Lowell.
Duplicate voter names appear on the registered voters list, with birthdays just days apart from one another and names that are slightly different, he said.
"Just one letter is changed in the name. But the same person has duplicate ability to vote," Hayes said.
Recall efforts against Lantigua will continue this fall, he said. In the meantime, Hayes said he is supporting a petition initiative, filed this summer by Mansfield selectmen Olivier Kozlowski, that would require all voters to present government issued photo identification, such as a driver's license or state identification card, to vote in state and local elections.
In this day and age, Kozlowski stressed "we're asked to prove identification for anything and everything." Right now, voters aren't required to show anything when they go to the polls, he said.
Kozlowski and supporters must collect 69,000 signatures from registered voters by mid-November to put the referendum on the 2012 state ballot. Some 30 other states, including Rhode Island, have already approved some other form of ID requirement for voters.
However, opponents say requiring an ID will keep poor, elderly, disabled and minority voters away from the polls because they don't have the money or access to obtain government identification.
Forcing voters to produce identification is reminiscent of Jim Crow-era attempts to disenfranchise underprivileged citizens, an advocate for the African-American community argued yesterday during a State House hearing on the Committee on Election Laws.
"I'm old enough to remember Jim Crow. The past barriers to voting have been removed," said William Robinson Jr., chairman of the political action committee of the NAACP's New England Area Conference, adding, "It looks as if some of these bills, the way they were written ... are trying to get back to the old ways and the old situations."
Gov. Deval Patrick said yesterday he's opposed to Voter ID proposals.
"I am not interested and will not sign anything that makes it harder to vote," he said.
When asked why he wouldn't sign such a proposal, Patrick responded, "because voting is a right and we need to encourage participation."
State Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, yesterday pointed to the state of Indiana, where generating free IDs for voters would cost $10 million. He said he'd rather use the state's money to bolster law enforcement than to buy IDs.
"To me, the issue is a fiscal one," he said. "My priority is to bring more police officers back on the force."
State Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover, approached the issue with skepticism. He is not necessarily opposed but stressed any Voter ID legislation must have the proper safeguards in place so no one is denied the fundamental right to vote, he said.
But Republicans backing ID requirements argued that voting is a "sacred" right for legal citizens and should be guarded against fraud.
"I guarantee you we can come up with a system that makes sure that a person is not denied the right to vote and it's not designed to be a barrier to someone who's legally entitled to vote," said House Minority Leader Bradley Jones of North Reading.
At yesterday's hearing, Republicans argued that identification is required in so many areas of life — getting on an airplane, driving a car, getting state benefits — that asking voters to show an ID should be common sense.
Material from the Associated Press and Statehouse News Service was used in this report.
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