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Brennan Center: 10 Million Voters to Face Hardships Obtaining Voter ID

A new report from the Brennan Center lays out the numerous obstacles to obtaining a valid voter ID in states that now require one for voting. Ten states, consisting of 127 electoral voters, currently have voter ID laws on the books, and two of those states – Texas and South Carolina – are fighting for their right to employ them, against Voting Rights Act pre-clearance restrictions from the Justice Department, in federal court. If they are successful, they and all other states (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wisconsin) with such a law would need to provide free voter IDs to anyone who requests one. However, this is easier said than done, the Brennan Center report says.

The Brennan Center estimates that 11% of eligible voters in these states lack the required photo ID for voting. And far too many of them live far from any office that would distribute them, with no means of transportation outside of public transit available to get there. According to the report, almost 500,000 eligible voters have no access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest office that would issue a valid state ID. This makes the trip to get an ID as much as a half-day ordeal, and this class of largely poor or elderly voters must find some increasingly scarce spare time to fit that in. Many of these 500,000 voters live in rural areas with no public transportation options.

More generally, over 10 million eligible voters in these states live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office. That includes 1.2 million African-Americans and 500,000 Hispanics, says the Brennan Center. They also uncover several examples of state bureaucracies engaging in shenanigans to restrict the release of photo IDs. This is from the executive summary:

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 addition, the report blows up the canard that “free” IDs will be issued to these eligible voters. In order to acquire these IDs, voters must have additional documentation certifying their citizenship or presence in the state. In particular, elderly voters may not have this documentation on hand and may need copies distributed by the state. Birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other documentation carry nominal fees for release, and when we’re talking about 1 million of these voters below the poverty line, even a nominal expense may be too much.

It’s pretty simple to see how this will have a major impact on voting in the states requiring an ID. There are solutions to this, like universal voter registration from birth or a real ID card, which can alarm many civil liberties advocates. There are work-arounds I suspect we’ll see, like car rides paid for by campaigns to help voters get IDs. But if we’re going to have these laws on the books – a reality worth questioning – we need to overcome these significant hurdles, which are clearly in place to make it harder for traditionally Democratic populations to vote.

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David Dayen

David Dayen