Nearly 25 percent of African-Americans currently do not have a valid photo ID necessary to vote, according to a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice, the non-partisan public policy and law institute at New York University’s School of Law.
The study revealed that the number of states with laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license or passport, has quadrupled in 2011, compared to only two states imposing such laws prior to this year’s legislative season. More than 21 million U.S. citizens do not possess government-issued ID.
The Center reported that seven states had signed photo ID bills into law at the time of the study: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
“This is electoral genocide,” South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian said in a recent Associated Press article.
“This is disenfranchising huge groups of people who don’t have the money to get an ID card,” he said.
In South Carolina’s predominantly-black Orangeburg County, the percentage of minority voters without voter IDs is higher than the state wide percentage, as reported by the AP.
Photo ID mandates are part of new election laws sweeping the nation, along with proof of citizenship requirements, laws that virtually eliminate Election Day and same-day voter registration, efforts to reduce early and absentee voting days and rules that make it difficult for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights.
As a result, these changes will make it harder for five million people to vote and when it comes to photo ID, African-Americans, Hispanics, senior citizens, people with disabilities and the poor are more likely to lack this requirement.
The enactment of the laws could also potentially restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters and the homeless.
“These voting law changes are radical and completely unnecessary,” Wendy Weiser, Director of the Center’s Democracy Program stated in a press release.
“They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system.”
As many as 10 percent of eligible voters do not have, and will not get, the documents required by strict voter ID laws, as reported in the study.
But, there is a readily used justification that claims that the new voter laws would reduce voter fraud. However, photo ID laws are an attempt to address what has proven to be a statistically rare occurrence: Election Day polling place impersonation. The ‘myth of voter fraud’ asserts that America’s system of free and fair elections must be protected as necessary, including with the implementation of voter ID laws to prevent polling day impersonations.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference and Human Rights, has a different view.
“Requiring photo ID and imposing other restrictions on the right to vote will not strengthen our democracy,” he wrote in a recent article.
“It will only serve to exclude many Americans from participating in the important decision that face us all as we work to create an America that is as good as its ideals.”
Stricter voter ID laws do not really address the real threats of voter fraud, as Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, explained in a 2009 testimony before the Committee of the Whole of the Texas Senate.
Implementation of voter ID mandates come with a price tag of millions of dollars. States would incur administrative costs of changing election procedures, costs of materials and training for the election officials and poll workers across the state, not to mention the cost of state public information campaigns and longer lines on Election Day.
Proof of citizenship laws were approved in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee and mandate voters to show documentation such as a birth certification to register or vote. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia have already enacted bills to reduce early voting.
The concerns about the strict photo ID requirements potentially blocking millions of eligible voters was expressed in a June letter by sixteen senators led by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennett to Attorney General Eric Holder.
“Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation,” the letter reads.
Though the voter ID requirements are not justified by any serious or widespread problem, the Center suggests that states that do require proof of identity at the poll should permit alternative options to serve as proof.