New report by Brennan Center finds that spate of new state photo ID requirements could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
A report out today from the Brennan Center for Justice provides some stark new details on how the trend toward photo ID requirements for voting is likely to affect the poor and people of color.
The report, “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification” focuses its analysis on ten states that now require citizens to produce government-issued photo identification before they can vote in elections. The ten states are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Report authors Keesha Gaskins and Sundeep Iyer explain and document that while these states must, by law, provide photo ID for free, this requirement comes with a big catch. Millions of eligible voters live ten miles or more from the state offices where they must acquire the new photo identification. Moreover, a large percentage of the offices are often closed. According to Gaskins and Iyer’s research, 11 percent of eligible voters lack the required photo ID necessary to allow them to vote legally.
•Nearly 500,000 eligible voters either don’t have access to a vehicle and live more than ten miles from the nearest office where they can get a photo ID.
•More than 10 million eligible voters live more than ten miles from the nearest ID-issuing office.
•1.2 million eligible black voters and a half million eligible Hispanic voters love more than ten 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 have limits on their business hours and in four southern states—Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas—“many part-time ID-issuing offices are in rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.
•In the ten states considered in the report, more than a million eligible voters fall below the federal poverty line and live more than ten miles from their nearest ID-issuing office. Moreover, the documents required to obtain a free photo ID are often not free with birth certificates costing between $8 and $25, for example.
“The result is plain,” Gaskins and Iyer conclude, “voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote. They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen.”
The report comes as a national debate is heating up about Republican Party efforts to tighten controls on voting, ostensibly to combat voter fraud.
The U.S. Department Justice has already moved to stop implementation of voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas, arguing that they violate federal civil rights laws by would effectively suppressing minority voter turnout in those states. Last week, Texas lawyers clearly struggled to defend their state’s law at oral argument before a federal appeals court panel.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has already weighed in on the gist of the findings by the Brennan Center for Justice.
“Many of those without IDs would have to travel great distances to get them and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them,” Holder told the NAACP last Tuesday in reference to the Texas law. “We call those poll taxes.”
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1937 that poll taxes are unconstitutional.
Tim Connor for the Center for Justice