Voter ID law disenfranchises Americans

Race and economics could play a much greater role in who gets to cast a ballot under this law.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law that requires all voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Those who support the ruling argue that it makes sense to show ID when voting to avoid voter fraud. While it is true that IDs are necessary in everyday life, the question of their use in the act of voting raises two questions: do you believe that voting is a fundamental right and how much do racial issues play in requiring photo IDs in order to vote?

Our Constitution affords us several rights, including the right to vote. It is unfortunate that many people, especially those who run our courts and make our laws, feel that voting is not a right, but minimize it to some sort of privilege, like having a bank account or going to the liquor store, where conditions and technicalities have to be met in order to participate.

There is no denying the race factor in the history of photo ID requirements. After the Civil War, the black vote was suppressed by poll taxes and literacy tests as well as other heinous laws known as Jim Crow. Proponents of photo IDs say it prevents voter fraud, when, in reality, voter fraud is an illusion which originated from an era of racism.

Photo IDs are the poll tax of present day America. Today, the group of individuals that are disenfranchised is much broader. Some of these individuals include seniors, low-income people and those who have disabilities.

There are costs to obtaining a driver’s license or state identification card that cause financial burdens. To begin with, in Minnesota there is a $10 to $15 fee to obtain a driver’s license. In addition, there are a variety of documents that may be required in obtaining ID; including a birth certificate, a passport or a naturalization certificate.

These forms can cost up to $200. Greg Marita, supervising attorney with the Senior Law Project at the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, explained how seniors are affected by voting photo ID requirements. “Many of the elderly are born in an era that make some of these papers hard to access. Several also deal with financial issues that make it hard to obtain this information.” Photo ID requirements also adversely affect those with disabilities. Steve Larson, public policy director with the Arc of Minnesota, explained, “We certainly want all people with disabilities to be able to exercise their right to vote. ID requirements pose challenges since many people with disabilities do not drive. Many also do not have immediate access to their state IDs since this information is often maintained by care providers.”

Voter fraud is not rampant. A study by the Brennan Center found that “allegations of widespread voter fraudÖoften prove greatly exaggerated. It is easy to grab headlines with a lurid claim (‘Tens of thousands may be voting illegally!’); the follow-up – when any exists – is not usually deemed newsworthy. Yet, on closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.” These conclusions ring true in Minnesota, when former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer claimed in 2004 that there were 14 instances of voter fraud and only one of those cases was prosecuted.

The Supreme Court ruling will have a ripple effect across the country and may cause other states to encourage photo ID laws in their own elections. The Voting Rights Coalition is prepared to oppose any proposal for a photo ID requirement in Minnesota. Some Minnesota legislators are calling for these requirements because of what they call a huge problem with voting fraud in Minnesota. Most fraud is found to be caused by clerical errors and computer matching problems from voter rolls, not someone voting multiple times.

Working together in a nonpartisan way, the Voting Rights Coalition seeks to remove barriers to voting and promote the full engagement of all Minnesotans in the political process through education, training organizing and advocacy.

Mai Thor is a Voting Outreach Advocate with the Minnesota Disability Law Center, Please send comments to [email protected]