With Republicans across the country pushing new photo ID requirements to vote this November, the Brennan Center for Justice has put out a new report that highlights the problems many low income Americans could face simply trying to obtain an ID to exercise their right to vote.
While some of these states technically offer some form of free photo ID to individuals, getting the documents you need to get the required ID will still cost money. According to the report, the cost of getting a birth certificate ranges between $8 to $25 (courts have struck down explicit poll taxes less than $5, but the Supreme Court has upheld a voter ID law).
And even if you have the necessary documentation and can pay these fees, getting to a government office can still be difficult for working people and those without cars. From the report:
The 11 percent of eligible voters who lack the required photo ID must travel to a designated government office to obtain one. Yet many citizens will have trouble making this trip. In the 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws:
- Nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office. Many of them live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options.
- More than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office.
- 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office. People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have photo ID than the general population.
- Many ID-issuing offices maintain limited business hours. For example, the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 — February, May, August, and October — have five Wednesdays. In other states — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas — many part-time ID-issuing offices are in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.
While most of the rest of the first world is moving towards facilitating enfranchisement, the United States is moving in the opposite direction, particularly in states controlled by the GOP. Voter ID laws are only the latest efforts to reduce the number of minorities and others who vote. Previously there were poll taxes and literacy tests during Jim Crow. More recently the drug war has done an incredible job of disproportionally turning minorities into felons, which becomes justification for denying them the right to vote.
At least part of the problem is that United States is one of the only democracies that doesn’t explicitly guarantee its citizens a right to vote in its Constitution. It lists reasons why voting can’t be denied — race, sex, — but the courts still let states claim there are other legitimate reasons why voting can be restricted. That has only encouraged politicians to find new official justifications for restricting eligibility.