Why We Need To Fight Restrictive Voter ID Laws NOW
African-Americans are disproportionately less likely to have the required voter identification.
What do you do if you lose the big game? For a group of Republicans, the answer is change the rules. That’s exactly what’s happening across the country as GOP state legislators attempt to pass new laws that will require very specific identification for those who wish to vote in the presidential election this fall, all with the knowledge that they will likely disenfranchise millions of the people who are most likely to reelect President Obama.
But it doesn’t have to be that way - the great thing about knowing your opponent’s strategy is that you can counter it. (Learn about all the tactics being employed at ProtectingTheVote.com.) We sat down with Marcia Johnson-Blanco, co-director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law’s Voting Rights Project, to discuss why we can’t wait until this November to prevent the fallout of the latest voter ID laws.
Loop 21: Tell us about some of the restrictive Voter ID laws that have been passed in the last year.
Marcia Johnson-Blanco: In the past year, 8 states passed voter ID legislation. Generally, these states require that voters show an unexpired government-issued photo identification in order to vote. These states are Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Significantly, in Texas, a license to carry a concealed handgun is permissible identification, but identification issued by a state university is not. In states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama), these laws cannot be implemented until they have been approved by the Department of Justice or the District Court of the District of Columbia. These laws have not yet been approved and in fact, the Department of Justice issued an objection to the South Carolina law. South Carolina and Texas are now seeking approval from the D.C. District Court. The Mississippi law was passed by voter referendum. Significantly, an analysis of the Mississippi vote by Lawyers’ Committee found that while the referendum passed by 62% (38% against), 75% of African Americans voted against the referendum.
Loop 21: As we enter general election season, why should African-Americans be concerned about these Voter ID laws?
Johnson-Blanco: Unfortunately, studies have shown that African-Americans are disproportionately less likely to have the required voter identification. In fact, a 2006 nationwide study of voting-age citizens found that African-Americans are more than 3 times as likely as Caucasians not to have a government-issued photo ID, with one in four African Americans without ID.
Loop 21: How many African-Americans could be effectively disenfranchised by these laws this fall?
Johnson-Blanco: A recent report by the Brennan Center noted that because of these laws, 5 million voters could be disfranchised. Given the disproportionate impact of these laws on African-Americans, they are significantly impacted. In its objection to the South Carolina law, the Department of Justice noted that minority voters “were nearly 20% more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters.”
Loop 21: What are some of the obstacles that stand in the way of obtaining identification that fits the criteria of these laws?
Johnson-Blanco: In order to get the required voter identification, voters need to produce additional documentation, including a certified copy of a birth certificate. Most voters are unlikely to have such a document handy and must pay to acquire one and wait for the document to arrive. Also, voters who need the identification will have to take the time from their jobs and get the needed transportation to get the required identification. This can be a difficult task. For example, in some counties in Wisconsin, with its newly enacted ID laws, a report shows that the state has only one DMV with weekend hours, three counties with no DMVs and only half of the DMVs are open full-time.
Loop 21: What is the reasoning given by those who push for these restrictive laws?
Johnson-Blanco: Those who advocate for burdensome voter identification laws claim that they will prevent voter fraud. However, the only fraud that will be addressed by these laws is voter impersonation, yet there is no evidence that there is a threat of voter impersonation fraud in the states that have recently passed restrictive ID laws.
Loop 21: Is voter fraud a real problem in the US?
Johnson-Blanco: No. The record shows isolated instances of voter fraud. A 2007 report found that after 5 years of investigation, the Bush administration found virtually no evidence of voter fraud. The cases found involved voter misinformation and misunderstanding about eligibility requirements. The question is, do these isolated incidences justify disfranchising potentially millions of eligible voters? Our answer is no.
Loop 21: What is a less restrictive alternative to these passed and proposed laws?
Johnson-Blanco: Given that there is no evidence of voter impersonation fraud, there is no reason for the restrictive voter identification laws. In the 23 states and DC that allow voters to show both photo and non-photo IDs - such as an utility bill and bank statement - there is no evidence that voter impersonation fraud is occurring.
Loop 21: What can readers do NOW to be sure these laws don’t keep them out of the voting booth this fall?
Johnson-Blanco: Voters should visit mapofshame.org and look at the information regarding their state. If they are in a state with a newly passed voter identification law and do not have the required identification, they should look at the voter identification toolkit to find out what they need and to call the 866-OUR-VOTE hotline if they have any questions or need additional information.
Loop 21: Is there anything else our readers need to know about voter ID laws?
Johnson-Blanco: According to a study issued this week by the PEW Center on the States, 51 million eligible Americans are not registered to vote. This is where reform and legislation is needed. A 2009 study showed that four million to five million voters did not participate in the 2008 general election because they encountered problems with their voter registration or failed to receive absentee ballots. What we need is not burdensome voter ID laws that address a problem that does not exist, but automatic and permanent voter registration where eligible voters are automatically registered to vote and have that registration move with them.
Are legislators attempting to push new voter ID laws in your state? Think they’re fair? Tell us how you feel in the comments.