Much of the reporting about the voter-ID laws many states have passed in recent years has centered on how they often block access to the polls by lower-income minority and naturalized citizens. But a subtext has been the barring of many older people from their right to vote. “Voter ID laws disadvantaging older persons place a burden on the voting rights of those most likely to participate in the electoral process,” said Daniel Kohrman, a senior attorney with the AARP Foundation Litigation office in Washington, D.C. That’s because older citizens vote at greater percentages than younger people. A total of 33 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls this year. (West Virginia’s new law goes into effect in 2018). Of those, 17 states will have restrictive voter-identification laws on the books for the first time in a presidential election, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
“With voter IDs, you can imagine that especially for a lot of African-American elders, who were born in segregated hospitals, their records may not exist any longer. So you will see, definitely, disproportionate impact for them,” stated Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, [www.advancementproject.org] a racial-justice organization based in Washington. Dianis added, “Also, for women elders who have to provide a marriage certificate that may be very old, or not exist any longer, to show the change in their name from their birth certificate, that may become a barrier.”
Other practical barriers to voting have emerged, such as Arizona’s decision to reduce polling sites in this year’s primary election from 200 to only 60, causing long lines and forcing many to travel long distances. “In Florida in the 2012 election,” Dianis recalled, “a 93-year-old woman had to stand in line for hours.” Speaking during a recent New America Media (NAM) media telebriefing, she stressed, “That is a little taxing, and seniors may decide it’s not worth it.”
According to the Brennan Center, difficulties in states like Arizona and North Carolina primaries could provide “an early glimpse of problems in November — as voters face the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to prevent discrimination in voting.”