Famous UNLV coach's son begins state race with call for voter IDs

By Scott Sonner
Published December 1st 2005 in Associated Press
RENO, Nev. (AP) - Danny Tarkanian announced his Republican candidacy for Nevada's secretary of state Thursday with a call to establish voter identification cards and require proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

Tarkanian, the son of former UNLV basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, lost a bid for the state Senate last year.

He said he opposes efforts by current Secretary of State Dean Heller, also a Republican, to allow Nevadans to register to vote through Election Day.

"We want to create an opportunity for people to vote, and anyone who wants to vote should have that opportunity. But we've gone so far over to allow that, we have created avenues for voter fraud," he said on KRNV-TV's "Nevada NewsMakers."

If elected, Tarkanian said he would push for a photo identification card that voters would have to present at the polls.

"I think that would clamp down on a lot of voter fraud going on now," he said.

"It isn't our responsibility to push people to the polls - pick them up, drag them out against their will, coerce or pressure them. ... Getting more numbers doesn't mean we did a better job."

Democrats immediately condemned the idea, likening the ID cards to Jim Crow poll taxes once used to discourage blacks from voting.

"Voter ID cards are a bad idea that could prove costly while disenfranchising the poor, elderly and minority voters," said Kirsten Searer, spokeswoman for state Democratic Party in Las Vegas.

"We see it as a poll tax that not only is wrong, but arguably illegal," she said.

Heller did not immediately return calls seeking comment. He is running for the GOP nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Jim Gibbons, who is running for governor.

Tarkanian said the idea for a voter ID card was first proposed by the Howard Baker-Jimmy Carter Commission that President Bush appointed to review allegations of voter fraud in Florida after the 2000 presidential election.

The Justice Department earlier this year approved a similar proposal in Georgia that demanded photo identification from all voters. But a federal judge in Atlanta last month barred the state from enforcing the photo-ID law, saying it amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax.

Nineteen states require voters to show identification, but only five request photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota allow voters without a photo ID to use other forms of identification or sign an affidavit of identity.

Tarkanian said he wants to require Nevadans to show proof of citizenship when they get their drivers license, either with a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers.

"Then you'd get a voter ID card," he said.

The card would have a "C" on it for citizenship, "or if you didn't have that, you'd have an `L' for legal resident. And when you go to the polls, you'd have to show this card," he said.

Searer said state Democrats advocate "making it as easy as possible to vote."

"Unlike Republicans, we want to do things that encourage people to get out to the polls and exercise their rights," she said about efforts to help senior citizens, the disabled and people without cars get to the polls.

"Quite frankly, those are the people who would have problems going through the hoops that Danny Tarkanian is talking about to get a voter ID card," Searer said.

Tarkanian is the only announced candidate for secretary of state, which oversees elections in Nevada - a battleground state that Bush narrowly carried in each of the past two elections and Bill Clinton won in the two before that.

"Nevada is going to a battleground state again in 2008," Tarkanian said.

"It is going to be very contentious election and the person who oversees the election process, ensures the fairness of it is the secretary of state," he said.

Tarkanian said he visited parts of rural Nevada the past few months to gauge support for a campaign.

"I want to get into politics. I think politics is the greatest opportunity to create a positive aspect in peoples' lives," he said. "My mother is doing that now and I see all that she is accomplishing."

A lawyer who started his own firm and co-founded a development company, Tarkanian was the captain and starting point guard on his father's top-ranked team at UNLV in 1984 and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs.

He also served as an assistant coach to his father at Fresno State in 1995. He returned to Las Vegas in 2002 and founded the nonprofit Tarkanian Basketball Academy.