Last June the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act, resulting in several states, among them Texas and North Carolina, racing to enact draconian new voter ID laws. While the first wave of attention focused on the ways such laws disproportionately impact minority voters, young voters, and the elderly, a slew of articles this past weekend point out that voter ID laws may also significantly suppress women’s votes. Indeed some have even suggested that this is the next front in the war on women, and suppressing female votes is part of the GOP’s concerted effort to ensure victories in states like Texas, where women like Wendy Davis threaten to topple the GOP with the support of female voters. It’s beyond disputing that women have ensured that Democrats, up to and including President Obama, have achieved major wins in recent elections. Female voters decided 22 of 23 Senate races in the 2012 election. But a closer look at whether voter ID laws will invariably harm liberal women and Democratic candidates at the polls suggests that something more interesting, and more complicated, may be going on here. We don’t actually have very good data to support the claim that voter ID laws will disproportionately disenfranchise progressive women. In fact some election law experts tell me the opposite may be true: These laws may hurt conservative women instead.
The problem around women and voter ID is neither new nor complicated: Women often change their names when they marry and divorce. Men don’t. Because some of the new voter ID bills frequently demand that a voter’s name correspond to her most up-to-date, legally recognized name at the polls, they erect a barrier for women who haven’t kept their ID current to reflect changing marital status. And since, at least according to one source, American women change their names about 90 percent of the time when they marry or divorce, they are at significantly higher risk of being unable to provide an ID that matches their current legal name.
If the slew of new voter ID laws may hit divorced women hardest, consider that women in red states in fact have much higher divorce and remarriage rates.
As the many articles considering the problem suggest, in some states that is about to get even worse. As ThinkProgress reported last week, the new Texas voter ID law demands that “constituents show original documents verifying legal proof of a name change, whether it is a marriage license, divorce decree, or court ordered change.” Photocopies will not be accepted. If you don’t have those original documents, you must pay a minimum of $20 for new copies. So in some states, female voters face two hurdles—showing they are who they claim to be and producing original documents indicating that they really are married and divorced.