As election season heats up, voter ID laws are in the news. This month’s issue of In Just Times raises important concerns about their impact on marginalized groups, and shows how this is part of a broader trend towards increasing inequality in our country.
As I explained in my recent Huffington Post piece, proponents of voter ID laws claim states are simply protecting the integrity of the ballot by preventing fraud — surely a worthy goal. They also note that state-issued IDs are free. But while the ID may be free, actually getting it is anything but.
In Wisconsin, for example, obtaining a state-issued photo ID requires: name and date of birth; identity; citizenship or other appropriate immigration status; and residency. You also need to present a social security card. As discussed in an article below, the Law Center has joined forces with the ACLU, ACLU of Wisconsin, and pro bono partner Dechert LLP to mount a federal court challenge to the law.
The law may seem reasonable at first glance, but to meet each of these five requirements, you need very specific evidence that is neither free nor easy (or even possible) for many to retrieve. To prove name and date of birth, you may need a birth certificate. If you don’t have it, you’ll need to order it—for a fee, which could be $20 or more. You’ll also need a photo ID. Don’t have a photo ID? Well, you’ll need to present two of these documents to get one: an employee ID, a passport, a checkbook, a health insurance card, a recent utility bill, or a recent traffic ticket.
In other words, you’ll need to have a job, the possibility of international travel, a bank account, health care, housing, or access to a car. If you lack two of these, you’re out of luck. And this is just the first of five requirements.
Wisconsin is not alone. As we discuss, it’s just one of 44 states that currently have or are now considering strict voter ID laws that will make it difficult (or even impossible) for many eligible voters to cast their ballots later this year, risking disenfranchisement of some five million voters. Many of those affected are poor. People who lack their own housing—whether they are on the street, living in their car, or doubled-up with friends or relatives—will be almost certainly be excluded. Meanwhile, there is no credible evidence that the type of fraud these laws are supposed to prevent even exists.
Without access to the ballot box, homeless and poor Americans will be further marginalized, at a time when income inequality is growing and money is becoming increasingly influential in politics. Please join us in our fight to protect equal access for all Americans!