The election process in the United States is the foundation of our democracy, one that would not exist without public participation and trust. However, several states have recently passed laws restricting voting access to only people in possession of a government-issued ID. Hindering a citizen’s right to vote goes against everything we stand for as a nation. We shouldn’t be pushing voters away from the polls; we should be encouraging participation in the very process our country was built on.
This year, seven states – Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – passed laws that require voters to have government-issued photo IDs with them at polling places in order to vote. As a result of these states’ actions, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that more than 5 million eligible voters will have a harder time trying to vote in 2012 than they did in 2008.i With these new restrictions, the law may cause many eligible voters to avoid going to the polls next year, a consequence that will only weaken our democratic election process.
While supporters of these new measures believe that having a strict form of photo ID will reduce impersonation fraud in the election process, this type of voter fraud happens less often than people being struck by lightning. ii These new laws create an unnecessary obstacle for citizens without a government-issued ID. Voter-impersonation fraud is almost a non-issue in our country today, as opposed to other more prevalent types of fraud, including buying, intimidating or manufacturing votes, none of which will be deterred by new ID restrictions.
More than 21 million Americans – 11 percent of the population – are without government-issued ID cards.iii Most of those citizens include the elderly, poor, young students, minorities and the disabled, and for many of them it would be a more burdensome process to obtain proper ID for voting than to simply go out and vote. Many urban voters either can’t afford or don’t need a car because they use public transportation. Therefore, many don’t bother obtaining driver’s licenses. Requiring voters to get a license or non-driver ID simply so they can vote, is reminiscent of the Poll Tax used decades ago to suppress minority voter turnout.
In New York, we have been expanding citizen access to voting and making the process less stressful for voters. We passed a law expanding the opportunity to vote by requiring poll and election inspectors to advise voters of their correct polling places if they arrived at the wrong location (Ch. 489 of 2009). The same year, a law passed that grants primary caregivers the opportunity to receive an absentee ballot (Ch. 426 of 2009). Additional laws were implemented making the absentee ballot process easier (Ch. 63 of 2010) and allowing voters to request absentee ballots by fax or other written instruments (Ch. 97 of 2010). A law requiring polling places to be sited on public transportation routes, when possible, was passed last year as well (Ch. 432 of 2010).
Our country suffers from shamefully low voter turnout. Creating barriers for citizens to vote will only increase that problem. We should work on expanding access to our democracy, not limiting it.
i. “Allegations of Voter Fraud,” www.brennancenter.org/content/section/category/allegations_of_voter_fraud
iii. “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” www.nytimes.com/2011/10/10/opinion/the-myth-of-voter-fraud.html