Seven percent of all American citizens lack access to citizenship documentation. This problem disproportionately affects those who earn less than $25,000 per year. Replacement birth certificates can exceed $40. A passport costs $97. For naturalized Americans, replacement citizenship documents cost $220. All of these financial burdens are layered on top of the need to deal with state or federal bureaucracies, which often involves taking time off from work, traveling to distant offices, and standing in long lines.
Again, however, debating the size, shape, and color of the barrier to the right to vote, should be accompanied by a frame that questions the necessity of the barrier in the first place. Remember, unlike other rights, such as speech, government controls all the mechanisms by which the right to vote is exercised. So, if assuring ballot integrity is a worthy goal - and Project Vote agrees that it is - laws that create barriers must prove that they are not hindering more eligible citizens from voting than they are catching ineligible voters. Given the infrequency of voter fraud in America and the burdens associated with complying with strict voter ID laws, they clearly fail this cost-benefit test.
Voter ID and Proof of Citizenship laws are part of a partisan effort disenfranchise select groups of voters
Since the beginning of voting, partisans have tried to bend the rules to maintain power. This deeply self-interested approach to voting has been a part of America's contested political culture since the original Constitution denied women and blacks the right to vote and is still seen frequently during close electoral contests.
Requiring voters to show photo ID is just one of many hurdles partisans put up to make it more difficult for certain people to vote. Underrepresented groups are encouraged to stay that way through long lines at polling places, partisan vote challenges and vote caging, faulty or inadequate equipment, and poorly trained poll workers in addition to the imposition of onerous voter ID requirements. Forty-three years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the poll tax is making a comeback.
But, the most insidious part of strict voter ID laws is not the direct effect they have on specific voters turned away from the polls. It is on the spread of disinformation, fear, and intimidation among under-served populations that will deter large portions of them from participating in future elections. According to Hastings, one 19-year-old Notre Dame student, Angela Hiss, said she was turned away on Tuesday after providing her school ID and Illinois driver's license without being offered a provisional ballot, as required by law. Widespread coverage of this incident will discourage similarly situated voters from participating in the future.
Further, the focus on the non-issue of voter impersonation distracts from real systemic problems such as the failure of poll workers at Hiss' polling place to follow other aspects of election law governing the use of provisional ballots. These kinds of errors disenfranchise far more people than have ever been denied the right to vote through voter impersonation..
The right to vote and have that vote counted has been under assault for the past eight years by partisans who put their electoral success above that right. The recent scandals involving the firings of the US Attorneys at the Department of Justice stand in stark testament to this fact. The issue is not that voter fraud is prevalent or that voter ID is easy to obtain, as it is clear that neither is true. The ultimate issue is the strength of American democracy. Will we allow partisans to erect barriers to voting or will we demand our elected representatives stand up for our intrinsic rights as American citizens - rights that as recently as 40 years ago people died to see defended?
Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans' Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification. Brennan Center for Justice. 2006.
The Disproportionate Impact of Indiana Voter ID Requirements on the Electorate. University of Washington. University of Washington. November 2007.
The Politics of Voter Fraud. Project Vote. March 2007.
In Other News:
Mo. voters may decide on photo ID requirement - St. Louis Post-Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY - Voters could decide whether to enact a photo ID requirement for voting under a proposed constitutional amendment given first-round approval Wednesday by the Missouri House.
Voter ID bill dies in Senate - Tulsa World
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Senate Democrats killed a bill Tuesday that would have required voters to show identification at the polls.
Heavy voting causes Ind. ballot shortages, delays tallies - Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS - Voters energized by the Democratic presidential race turned out in record numbers for Indiana's primary Tuesday, causing scattered ballot shortages across the state.
Erin Ferns is a research and policy analyst with Project Vote's Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD). Nathan Henderson-James is SWORD's director.
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