A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law finds millions of voters in ten states face challenges in securing the voter IDs now required in these states. The result, say the authors of the report, is that these measures could seriously affect the outcome of the 2012 election, since half of the 270 electoral votes required for a candidate to win an election come from these states, and these laws potentially shut out many voters from the polls.
“Voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote,” say the authors of the report. “They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen.”
Ten states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin — have strict voter ID laws which are now in effect. All states say they can provide free voter IDs for eligible voters who lack IDs, such as drivers licenses, for example. The report, however, says this is easier said than done. For example, half a million Latinos — and more than 10 million eligible voters – live more than 10 miles away from facilities which issue these IDs and are open more than a couple of days a week. In rural areas with high concentrations of low-income Latinos and blacks, such as parts of Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas, many of the offices issuing IDs are only open part-time.
“The office in Sauk City, Wisconsin is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month,” says the report, adding “but only four months in 2012 — February, May, August, and October — have five Wednesdays.” The ability to obtain a free voter ID, says the report, is crucial for poor voters who would have difficulty paying up to 25 dollars to get a copy of a birth certificate.
The issue of voter ID laws have stirred great controversy between the two political parties. All the states which have passed these laws have Republican-led legislatures. Latino Republican lawmakers say voter ID is a common-sense measure to prevent voter fraud.
“You need an ID to cash a check or even rent a movie,” Texas Republican Latino legislator Jose Aliseda said to NBC Latino recently. “The idea that Hispanics don’t have IDs is absurd.” The Justice Department blocked the Texas’ voter ID law, and the state is suing the Justice Department.
Attorney General Eric Holder recently said that voter ID laws amount to a modern-day “poll tax,” which was a tax used in some states after the Civil War to prevent African-Americans from voting. ”We will not allow political pretext to disenfranchise American citizens of their most precious right,” said Holder during the recent NAACP convention.
Marian “Mimi” Bell, a Republican Latina from Colorado, recently told CNN it’s insulting to say voter ID laws will disenfranchise Hispanics just because they require a voter to show a driver’s license, passport, utility bill or birth certificate. Bell said that amounts to saying Hispanics are too “inept” to obtain an ID.
But the report’s authors argue that for many Americans, it is a question of access.
“This report conclusively demonstrates that this promise of free voter ID is a mirage,” the report says. “In the real world, poor voters find shuttered offices, long drives without cars, and with spotty or no bus service, and sometimes prohibitive costs. For these Americans, the promise of our democracy is tangibly distant. It can be measured in miles.”