Can I See Your ID?
The rate of participation among eligible American voters is already abysmally low, with just 64% of those eligible going to the polls in 2008. So why are some elected officials taking steps to push that number down even lower?
Voter ID laws, a growing trend in states nationwide, are ostensibly designed to prevent voter fraud. But the truth is that there is no evidence of widespread fraudulent voting in federal elections. In 2007, a federal investigation concluded that only 86 individuals had cast their votes fraudulently since 2002, a majority of whom were felons or immigrants. Nor has there been any systemic manipulation of the voting system by the electorate. (By elected officials? Yes.) Voter ID laws do nothing to address corruption or fraudulent voting from within.
Instead, what voter ID laws do do is prevent eligible voters from casting their ballot. In March, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked Texas’ voter ID law from being implemented because the state failed to prove that the law would not disproportionally suppress legitimate Hispanic voters. (Because Texas has a history of suppressing minority voters, it must have “preclearance” from the DOJ under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in order to make any changes to elections laws.) Texas sued the DOJ to allow the law to take effect and a three-judge panel will hear the case this week. If the court rules in favor of Texas, agreeing that the DOJ’s actions infringe on states’ rights, this case will have major ramifications for states facing parallel challenges, such as South Carolina, which has sued the DOJ for blocking its law based on similar grounds, and still more who are considering enacting voter suppression legislation.
The integrity of elections is at stake and there are particularly significant implications for members of those communities most likely to be denied access to the polls. A Philadelphia Inquirer study released earlier this week found that 758,939 registered Pennsylvania voters (9.2% of the registered electorate) do not have a driver’s license, the most popular and easily obtained form of photo ID. Most of these voters live in urban areas (approximately one quarter live in Philadelphia), where the highest percentage of people living below the poverty line and people of color tend to live.
No election should be won or lost based on the exclusion of eligible voters and the fate of voter ID laws is in flux. What the U.S. District Court decides in the Texas case this week will have major implications specifically for the Voting Rights Act, and more broadly, for civil rights in this country.
While we await the decision, we can educate ourselves and our communities about the new laws that may impact our abilities to vote this fall. Check out our new Voter Suppression Resource, available at the RAC’s Voting Information Center at www.rac.org/vote. Updated this month, the resource contains summaries of restrictive voting laws in 16 states across the U.S. Look for more information on how to help Get Out the Vote in your state to ensure everyone has the appropriate identification.