Let’s take a look at the laws currently in place and being introduced every year requiring ID to vote. I’m indebted for much of my data here to the NCSL Voter Identification Requirements webpage. Go there to see a great map (that unfortunately will not let itself be pasted here).
Strict photo: There are currently five states that require you to have a photo ID before you can vote—Kansas, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia. Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas have strict photo laws pending. Wisconsin’s strict photo law was declared unconstitutional by its state legislature but is being appealed and could be put into effect by November 2012. So that would make 9 states with strict photo requirements by the end of 2012. At the start of 2011, only Georgia and Indiana had these requirements, so the number has shot up quickly.
What constitutes a photo ID is defined variously in the different states; some do not give examples but merely say it must be issued by the federal government (passport), state government (driver’s license), city government, or military. Pennsylvania includes IDs from “an accredited PA private or public institution of higher learning (student ID) or a PA care facility”. Kansas specifically names “government-issued concealed carry handgun or weapon license”, so if you own a gun, you get to vote. In Mississippi, if you have a religious conviction against being photographed you can sign an affidavit instead of presenting a photo ID.
Photo: There are currently six states requiring a photo ID—Hawaii, Idaho, South Dakota, Michigan, Louisiana, and Florida. Alabama has a photo ID law pending. The photo ID law, as opposed to “strict photo,” asks voters to show a photo ID but allows other proofs if they don’t have one, such as a voter with a photo ID vouching for you, giving your birth date, or signing an affadavit swearing to your identity.
Non-photo: Eighteen states require non-photo ID—Alaska, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia, South Carolina, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Rhode Island is filing for a change to a photo requirement. Non-photo ID includes bank statements, utility bills, and other items mailed to your local address.
No ID: That leaves 30 states with no ID requirement for voting.
What happens if you show up and attempt to vote but you don’t have your state’s required ID? It varies—and here’s where the fundamental emptiness of these laws comes through. In some states, if the local election official knows you, s/he can waive the law. In others, you sign an affidavit. In others, you fill out a provisional ballot which will be counted if you provide ID before the close of voting, or if the county board of election officials decides to accept it. In short, you go ahead and fill out your ballot in most states and if you plead your case it will be accepted.
The kicker here is that in many states, your case is accepted if your name is on the poll list. Which takes us back to square one: in the U.S., all you need to vote is to register. When you register, you are asked to produce ID saying that you are a citizen of the U.S. and have residency in your state. Once you’ve registered, your name goes into the poll list—that big book the election officials find your name in when you go up to them on election day. If your name is on that list, you have already fulfilled the requirements for voting in the U.S., and you should not be forced to show ID. You have already been verified as a U.S. citizen and state resident, and those are the only requirements. Adding photo ID requirements, then, is the equivalent of a poll tax or literacy test, tactics used during the lowest years of Jim Crow to prevent the poor and black Americans from voting. Forcing people to pay a fee to vote, or prove their English literacy, has been declared illegal in this country. Forcing people to show photo ID should be illegal, too.
Who are the people without valid photo IDs in this country? The elderly, who often no longer drive or use a passport; the poor (who are often non-white); and, importantly, illegal immigrants. It is this last group who are the real targets of photo ID laws. Americans have been told there is an epidemic of voting fraud in this country, and that it is being carried out by illegal immigrants. But independent inquiries have turned up no such epidemic, and illegal immgrants are the last people to willingly risk having their status found out by attempting to vote. If you think about it, describing voter fraud in 2012 as someone amassing millions of names, getting them into the list of registered voters, then getting those millions of people to go vote illegally is absurd. Any voting fraud carried out today would be a hacking of the computer systems that tabulate votes, not a hacking of your local registered voters database at town hall.
Photo ID laws are blatant attempts to restrict voting rights. They impact the poor, the non-white, and the elderly—groups assumed to vote Democratic, which may explain the strong Republican backing for these laws. If your name is on the poll list there is no constitutional law requiring you to show more ID than that. Until the accusations of voting fraud are proved, we should all be fighting on our local state level against these laws.