Monday, August 20, 2012

The Problem With Voter ID Laws

Last week I posted the following status message to Facebook. Pennsylvania is making it harder for minorities, students and poor people to vote, Ohio is trying to modify procedures and processes for early voting that extend hours in some counties but not others. There's nothing like a presidential election year for engineering even more divisions and greater cultural gaps, cause that's what our country needs.

Not particularly eloquent, but my comment was intended to point out that tactics that focus on voter suppression and increasing the cultural separation among constituents cause more problems than they solve. I mean really, we should be banding together to solve problems, not creating larger rifts. Instead, I inadvertently invited a barrage of comments both on my Facebook wall, on chats and via email. 

I thought it was interesting that no one commented on Ohio’s now redacted attempt to lengthen early voting hours in some counties, and reducing the available voting hours in others. But since (in response to the heavy backlash) it looks like the program will be amended to ensure equal voting hours in all Ohio counties, let’s focus on the Pennsylvania Voter ID law and the comments that were thrown my way. Some were ridiculous, for example, equivocating the right to vote with purchasing alcohol. 

But some are worth addressing, such as:

  • Voter ID laws will combat voter fraud and are therefore necessary.
  • It won’t impact that many people anyway, I don’t know why we don’t have these in every state.
  • It takes a one person just as long to wait in line at a registry office as another, this has nothing to do with race, age or gender.
  • It’s easy to get an ID. 
  • All you have to do is go to the registry office, it isn’t that hard.
  • Most states with voter ID laws make getting the voting ID free.
  • People with IDs are better off.

While I do agree with the last point, that having a government issued ID is beneficial, tying these benefits to a requirement for voting impacts a state’s population in disproportionate ways, and obtaining an ID is not that easy (especially if you don’t drive) and rules varies from state to state. 

I will address the comments after the jump and I'll focus primarily on PA, since it's the newest law and is currently under review. But first: 
  • if you're interested in reading a detailed study on the impacts and implications of exaggerating voter fraud problems and enacting restrictions on voting, this document by the Brennan Center for Justice is an excellent resource. 
  • This site is a good source for information on state requirements for voter id requirements nationwide.
  • You can find a list of voter registration deadlines by state here.
Now onto the comments!
Comment: Voter ID laws will combat a real problem, voter fraud.

The Brennan Center for Justice has analyzed more than 250 claims of fraud submitted by those supporting the respondents in the Supreme Court's photo ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The researchers found absolutely no proven cases of fraudulent votes that could be prevented by the restrictive ID law being challenged.

The state of Pennsylvania has even stipulated that there have been no proven incidences of voter fraud, and that "no evidence or argument that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law." 

The state is essentially admitting that the program is spending money on a problem that probably doesn't exist. Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law is costly and given that there are virtually no incidents of voter fraud, if I were a taxpayer, I would be livid at this misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. 

Millions of dollars - $5 million on voter awareness outreach alone (TV ads, social media blitzes, phone campaigns) - being spent on an ineffectual solution to a virtually non-existent problem. Meanwhile, the state budget cut nearly $1 billion dollars on education last year. How is this fiscally responsible?

Comment: Voter ID Laws won’t impact that many people anyway; I don’t know why we don’t have these in every state.

According to a Brennan Center for Justice Study 10% percent of voting-age citizens who have current photo ID do not have photo ID with both their current address and their current legal name. Therefore, if there were voter ID laws in every state, millions of citizens would be impacted.

In Pennsylvania alone, roughly 758,000 people are impacted by the new law (based on registered voters of the 2008 election).

Comment: It takes a one person just as long to wait in line at a registry office as another, this has nothing to do with race, age or gender. (Implication: Voter ID laws impact all people equally).

This is simply not true. Studies have shown that Voter ID requirements disproportionately affect  minorities, women, students, seniors and the poor.

Minorities:  A national telephone survey of registered voters who were likely to vote in the 2008 presidential election. In this survey, we asked registered voters if they currently had a valid driver’s license or state issued photo-ID. Respondents were then asked if this ID was expired, if the name on that ID matched that on their voter registration record, and if the address on both the registration record and the ID matched. White respondents had the highest rates of valid identification (88%), followed by Blacks and Latinos (both 81%), and Asian American (80%) registered voters.  Therefore, across all groups, it is clear that access to “valid” identification decreases significantly as we move to more stringent qualifications, yet Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans are less likely to have a state issued ID that meets the criterion established by most states' voter ID laws.

Women: In a similar survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice for the 2008 election cycle, results showed that only 48% of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates or have a birth certificate with current legal name – and only 66% of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with current legal name.

Students: As many as 18 percent of citizens aged 18-24 do not have photo ID with current address and name, using 2004 census tallies. Photo ID laws in SC, TX, TN, and WI, exclude student IDs as a valid form of identification and residency. Students typically lack the appropriate documentation such as utility bills and property/lease documents needed to verify residency in state.

Seniors: Nationwide, 18 percent of American citizens over age 65 lack the type of photo ID required by restrictive laws. More than 15 percent of Pennsylvania's residents are 65 or older, the fourth highest percentage in the country. In the Pittsburgh metropolitan region that number is even higher -- seniors 65 and older make up more than 17 percent of the population in five of its counties. (Read more here)

Poor: Citizens earning less than $35,000 per year are more than twice as likely to lack current government-issued photo identification as those earning more than $35,000. Indeed, the survey indicates that at least 15 percent of voting-age American citizens earning less than $35,000 per year do not have a valid government-issued photo ID.

In addition to the facts above, it is often more difficult to obtain the proper documentation easily and in a timely manner, as I'll discuss in more detail below.

Comment: Getting an ID is easy and free in states that require it for voting.

For those who move often or don’t own property (those living in dorms or rentals), having appropriate identification with matching addresses can be problematic. Pulling together the paperwork costs time and actual money.

Let's review what's needed in order to get a state issued voter ID in Pennsylvania.

Residents will need a raised seal birth certificate, which costs $10 and according to the application form (found here): 
The individual requesting the record must submit a legible copy of his or her valid government issued photo identification. Examples of acceptable identification are a state issued driver's license or non-driver photo ID that verifies the eligible requestor's name and current address. If possible, enlarge photo ID on copier by at least 150%. Photo identification will be shredded after review. 
If you do not have acceptable photo identification, it may be necessary for an eligible requestor possessing government issued photo ID to apply for the certified copy of this birth record in your behalf. Eligible requestors must be 18 years of age or older and includes the spouse, parent, grandparent, child, grandchild, or sibling of the individual whose birth record is being requested. If an eligible requestor is unable to apply for this record in your behalf, you may complete and submit a Statement from Requestors Not Possessing Acceptable Government-Issued Photo ID with two documents verifying your current address.

It’s interesting to note here, that in order to obtain your government issued photo ID, you need a raised seal birth certificate, and that in order to obtain your raised seal birth certificate the acceptable photo identification is a valid government issued photo ID.

In order to simplify the process for PA voters, the government has amended some of these requirements. If you are a Pennsylvania born resident, you can use your hospital issued birth certificate in order to obtain your raised seal certificate and the government will refund fees associated with obtaining a raised-seal birth certificate.

But, what if you weren’t born in Pennsylvania? The American populace is much more mobile than in times past. According to the US Census Bureau, the average American moves approximately 14 times in a lifetime. Roughly 40 million Americans change their home address at least once each year. Personally, I've lived in four different states (including the District of Columbia), and have lived in two of those states at different unconnected times in my lifetime. 

So, let’s see what might happen if you currently live in Philadelphia, but were born in New Jersey, just over the state line.

According to the online birth certificate application for New Jersey Vital Records, it will cost $25 and will take a minimum of 3 weeks to obtain a raised seal birth certificate. In order to order the document you will need:
One of the following forms of ID with address: A valid government issued photo driver's license with address, a valid government issued photo non-driver's license with address, a valid government issued ID and an alternate form of ID with address from the list below; 
Two of the following alternate forms of ID with address: Non-photo State issued driver's license/ID card, Green Card, Vehicle Registration, County ID, Insurance Card, School ID, Voter's Registration, Property Tax Statement, Passport, U.S. Military ID w/photo, Vehicle Insurance Card, Bank Statement, Lease or Rental Agreement, Two consecutive months of utility bills (gas, water, electric), or a Public Assistance Card
For some, this might not seem so bad. But consider that several of the above forms of ID also require a raised seal birth certificate to obtain, and students, renters and women who have recently been married or divorced may not have consistent identification at a single address. Ensuring that supporting documentation all have the same address and name spelling will add time, and in some cases, additional costs to the process.  

Given that the time frame for obtaining the birth certificate can be greater than 3 weeks, anyone who hasn’t started pulling together the necessary documentation by  this week may be close to getting locked out of voting in November.

Aside from the cost and time required for obtaining supporting documentation, there’s also the problem of access to the facilities that issue state IDs.

Comment: All you have to do is go to the registry office, it isn’t that hard.

The state of Pennsylvania has 67 counties, nine of those counties have no centers, eleven centers are open for photos only two days per week, ten centers are open only three days per week, and five centers only four days per week. In Philadelphia, there are four centers, only two are open on Saturdays and only one is open past 6pm (most open after 8:30 and close by 4:30).

One calculation, using the most conservative figure of affected voters (700,000), showed that citizens would have to arrive at the rate of eight per hour, at every state Driver Center, during every hour of photo service, beginning the day Corbett signed the bill and ending Election Day, to get full registration.

In order to facilitate the process, the PA Department of State contracted a vendor to increase opportunities for photo IDs, the cost of which is still unclear. Additionally, it pledged to spend $5 million dollars on a multimedia campaign to reach 8.1 million voters by Nov. 6. 

So what does this mean for Pennsylvania voters (or voters in any state with strict ID laws)?

Last week, the Pennsylvania voter identification law was upheld by an appellate judge and the decision about whether or not the law will impact the November election sits before the state supreme court. Registration in PA needs to be complete by October 9th in order to vote in the November election. Given the limited access to facilities that can issue voter IDs and potential complications that may arise, you should make sure that you have appropriate acceptable ID immediately, and if you don't, you better get started on that process now. 

In states where voter ID laws have been upheld, organizations are now shifting focus to helping get disenfranchised voters registered with the appropriate IDs. Read more about some examples in Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina here. While the impact of the voter ID law in Pennsylvania is uncertain, similar efforts need to start in PA today.

1 comment:

the silent type said...

and we wonder why we have such a horrendous participation rate.