Voting in Presidential Elections

Are voter ID laws limiting America's ability to participate?


Laws requiring a photo ID at polling stations are on the rise and repress a percentage of American's ability to vote. States such as Mississippi, Kansas, and 8 others have particularly restrictive laws for what will be accepted as voter ID. This report focuses on these 10 states and analyzes data about the populations of the respective states such as distance from ID-issuing offices, the availability of these offices, and the cost of the documents needed for a voter ID. The data concludes that there are significant barriers in the path to voting for the people residing in these states and we can anticipate these barriers dissuading hundreds of thousands of people from voting in presidential elections. I recommend that these barriers be broken down by allowing copies of these documents be obtained free of charge if needed for the pursuit of a voter ID, and that the application process for these documents be available online. This would ensure the entirety of the American population retains their right to vote.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Voting (HBO)


Voter ID laws limit an estimated 700,000 people from voting in each presidential election and that number is only rising with the spread of these laws (Lee). Many of these laws exist, however, ten states, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas, have overly restrictive voter ID laws. Meaning that they require a valid, non-expired, photo ID to be shown at the polls and any individual not in ownership of such ID must procure a voter ID. These laws target the elderly, minorities, and young adults between the ages of 18-24 because this population is less likely to own such forms of identification (Gaskins, Iyer). By analyzing the data gathered, this report will discuss if voter ID laws are limiting America's participation in presidential elections. Voter ID laws in the 10 states listed are restricting American's voting process because travel to an ID-issuing office can be a problem as well as the hours of availability and the price associated with applying for documents needed in lieu of a photo ID. This cost has a similar effect as the poll tax did. The poll tax was a $1.50 tax on each ballot back in the 1800s. This meant that even though the 15th amendment gave former slaves the right to vote, many poor people, both blacks and whites, did not have enough money to vote. That same difficulty is seen with individuals having to pay for documents necessary to vote. Laws such as these affect all people living in the United States and it is imperative that each of us are concerned. "It only makes sense to seek out and identify structures of authority, hierarchy, and domination in every aspect of life, and to challenge them; unless a justification for them can be given, they are illegitimate, and should be dismantled, to increase the scope of human freedom," a quote by Noam Chomsky (Fernandes).


In order to find the information highlighted in this report, predominantly online databases provided by Chandler-Gilbert Community College (CGCC) were searched. The specific databases used are:

  1. CQ Researcher
  2. Opposing Viewpoints in Context

Information was also gathered from Find Law, funded by Time Magazine, and the National Public Radio's organizational website. Data about each state mentioned was found on various government sites for current census information and state laws pertaining to voter identifications. The information provided in this report is credible and irrefutable. Great care was taken to examine the purpose and intent of data found online to ensure accuracy.


Barriers to Obtaining a Voter ID

  • Distance of ID-Issuing Offices

Out of the ten states that have passed restrictive voter ID laws, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Wisconsin, Alabama, Indiana, Tennessee, Texas, and Kansas, an average of 17.5% of the populations live farther then 10 miles from the nearest ID-Issuing Office (Figure 1). Traveling to obtain a voter ID for these citizens would require some form of public transportation as the very nature of their problem is lack of an eligible drivers license. However, "Seven of the ten restrictive voter ID states rank in the bottom half of the country when it comes to investment in public transportation," and access in rural areas is declining rapidly (Figure 2) (Gaskins, Iyer). According to a 2011 U.S. Department of Transportation report, Alabama is tied for last because it relies solely on federal funds and does not invest any state money in public transportation ("Survey of State Funding").

Figure 1
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Figure 1:

The table reveals the proportion of voting-age citizens without vehicle access and the percentage of them that live more then 10 miles from an ID-issuing office in states with current voter ID laws.

Figure 2
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Figure 2:

The chart shows the per capita investment on public transportation in the 10 restrictive voter ID states. Pennsylvania spends the most out of these 10 while Alabama relies solely on Federal funds and doesn't invest any state capita in public transportation.

  • The Availability of ID-Issuing Offices

Getting to an ID-Issuing office is difficult already for citizens without a photo ID, finding an ID office with flexible hours is another issue that these citizens encounter. Many ID offices in these states have reduced business hours which can cause problems for citizens attempting to obtain an ID such as having to take time off work. Most work places grant time-off for voting itself but rarely grant it to get the identification needed to vote ("State-by-State").

Examples of reduced business hours of ID-issuing offices

  1. "In Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi, less than half of all ID-issuing offices in the state are open five days a week."
  2. "In South Carolina, only six of the state’s 68 ID offices are open on Saturday. No state ID-issuing offices are open on Saturdays in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin. All ID-issuing offices in restrictive voter ID states are closed on Sunday."
  3. There are some offices that are open so rarely it is necessary to plan it months in advance. "The office in Sauk City, Wisconsin. . . is only open on the fifth Wednesday of any month," in 2016 there will only be 4 months out of the year that contain 5 Wednesdays (Gaskins, Iyer).

Upon arrival to an ID-issuing office, the individual is required to show 2 documents that show a full legal name and date of birth ("Non-operator ID cards"). Such documents can be difficult for some individuals to present with for a multitude of reasons; situations such as fires or floods that destroy documents, theft, or even simply misplacing them are not uncommon. According to Corey Dade, a journalist with National Public Radio (NPR), "the elderly, minorities, and poor and young adults aged 18-24" are least likely to have access to these types of documents. Therefore, these people would need to go through the process to obtain these documents which, unlike the voter ID card itself, these do have a monetary transaction in order to apply for them.

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  • The Cost of a "Free" Voter ID

In order for an individual lacking a photo ID to acquire a voter ID, 2 separate documents showing legal name and date of birth need to be presented ("Non-operator ID cards"). These documents can include passports, birth certificates, and certificates of citizenship (Underhill). The prices of these documents can vary wildly by state and very few are free.

The fees associated with applying for a new passport range between $120-$140 and to renew a passport it costs $110. Copies of birth certificates have a cost that varies state to state but ranges between $35-$90 and to replace a certificate of citizenship or naturalization the price starts at about $345 (Figure 3) ("Fees"). Married women who have a different surname then what is on their birth certificate, which is about 48% of married American women, must provide a marriage certificate with their current name. These marriage certificates range from about $5-$40 depending on the residing state (Gaskins, Iyer).

Figure 3
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Figure 3:

The cost of birth certificates and marriage licences in the 10 states with Voter ID laws (Gaskins, Iyer).


From this information it is obvious to see that voter ID laws place an undue burden on a portion of the American population unable to acquire such identifications. The monetary barriers that stand in the way act similarly to poll taxes, which were outlawed in 1964 ("The 24th Amendment"). While a voter ID itself is free in all states, the documentation needed to prove your identity is oftentimes not free of charge. Traveling to ID issuing offices also cost money, for a bus ticket or taxi ride, and time outside of work, which is usually not granted in most businesses to their employees. This means individuals without photo ID must invest both money and time into voting which, by law should be free and simple. The population that is most likely not to be able to acquire such IDs because of these monetary and travel restrictions are the elderly, minorities, and young adults between 18-24 years of age. The arguments in favor of a voter ID consist of trying to stop voter fraud even though there are zero cases of voter fraud happening in any of the states researched in this report (Oliver). In sum, all these laws do is bar a certain portion of the population from being able to vote. Since so little of our population votes already, this means America's voting system is not accurately representative of what its population believes.


From the research provided it is safe to say that voter ID laws are limiting American's involvement in the election process. In order to remove these limitations and allow the ability to vote to be given back to all American's I recommend these steps be taken:

  1. Allow these documents to be acquired over the internet. This will allow individuals access to apply 24/7. Internet access is widespread and oftentimes not only libraries offer free access but coffee shops and schools offer it as well.
  2. Make access and copies of these documents free when the individual is seeking a voter ID. States such as Kansas and Pennsylvania have already made birth certificates free to individuals seeking a voter ID (Gaskins, Iyer). I commend their effort in that regard and motion that other states follow their lead.
Making sure all American's right to vote is secure is an incredibly important undertaking one that should be supported by every person living in this nation. This is a burning war that has been raging inside our country for decades; the majority population against the minority in power, fighting to keep the rights that these legislators attempt to take from them. One step at a time, we can ensure that simple, speedy, and cost-free elections can and will be a part of America's future.

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Anaya Saydjk

Megan Elston

ENG 101

April 7, 2016