Voting in Presidential Elections
Are voter ID laws limiting America's ability to participate?
- CQ Researcher
- 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").
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.
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
- "In Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi, less than half of all ID-issuing offices in the state are open five days a week."
- "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."
- 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.
- 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).
The cost of birth certificates and marriage licences in the 10 states with Voter ID laws (Gaskins, Iyer).
- 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.
- 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.
April 7, 2016