Voter ID Laws Could Keep Millions of Eligible Voters from Polls, Study Finds

July 18, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Ten states with ridiculously restrictive voter ID laws could keep millions of people from participating in this year’s general election, The Brennan Center for Justice reports in an extensive study.

The majority of the restrictive voter ID laws also would likely have the harshest impact, not surprisingly, on low- income individuals, the elderly, and minorities. Right-wing law makers in Florida are also defending a restrictive voter ID law. In Pennsylvania, one of the states included in the study, a Republican lawmaker said the law is aimed at helping the Republican’s presidential candidate carry the state.

The report, “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” says that “nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office,” which has limited hours of operation. Moreover the study reveals that 1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Latino voters “live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” again with limited hours of operation.

If states are going to require IDs for voting, which is more than a privilege, it’s a constitutional right, they must offer free IDs. But as the Brennan Center study notes, the restrictive voter ID laws are making it a major, and often costly, undertaking to attain those IDs. That is likely the intent behind those laws. This nation has a tawdry history of disenfranchising voters, and that tradition is being carried on.

The states included in the study are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

One of the more disturbing parts of the Brennan Center study is the potentially devastating impact these laws will have on the nation’s poorest.

“More than 1 million eligible voters in these 10 photo ID states fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office,” a press release about the report states. “These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25.”

“By comparison,” the statement continues, “the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

In a recent speech before the NAACP, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the restrictive voter ID laws, such as the one in Texas, likening them to those poll taxes. His comment riled the right-wing governor of Texas, Rick Perry, who has complained about Holder’s critique.

Holder has given no indication that he plans to back off his assessment and the Department of Justice along with civil rights groups are challenging the Texas voter ID law and others in federal court.

The Brennan Center study provides strong support for Holder’s comments. He noted, for instance, that many of those restrictive ID laws would require people to “travel great distances to get them – and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them.”

Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center and co-author of the study, said, “Voters find closed offices, long trips without cars and spotty public transit, and prohibitive costs for documents needed to get ID.”

She added, “Unless states with voter identification laws address these barriers now, many eligible citizens could lose their opportunity to vote this November.”

That is of course what many officials in those states are counting on – a suppression of the vote. And it is exactly why the federal government and groups, such as the Brennan Center, must aggressively attack those laws, many of which are likely constitutionally suspect.

Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt in an ACS Issue Brief from June said Florida’s onerous voter ID law is not only on wobbly constitutional ground, but also “fundamentally flawed as a matter of public policy. Not only do they make it more difficult for eligible Americans to vote, but they do so without any meaningful benefit.”

Many proponents of these types of laws claim that rampant voter fraud is the justification. But the voter fraud argument is not only getting tired, it’s extremely lame.

As Levitt put it, “Americans are struck and killed by lighting more often. And every year, there are far more reports of UFO sightings,” than valid voter fraud claims.

See the full Brennan Center report here.