With ballooning deficits and substantial unemployment among the urgent problems confronting the states, many state legislatures spent the first days of their 2011 session attempting to restrict the way that voters prove their identity at the polls.
Five states passed voter ID laws in 2011. The most stringent preclude citizens from casting a valid ballot unless they show specific documents. Opinion polls reveal that the public supports this idea. But those behind this effort have forgotten both their priorities and their obligation to safeguard the vote — the most fundamental of constitutional rights — not just for most U.S. citizens but for all.
The public supports restrictive ID rules because most Americans have ID. We think nothing of showing ID for conveniences, so we think nothing of showing it as a condition for a basic constitutional right. Because we have the correct ID, and our friends have the correct ID, we think every citizen has the correct ID.
The facts, however, say different. Most of these recent laws demand current, government-issued photo ID with an expiration date. Yet 11 percent of voting-age citizens do not have this sort of ID, according to reliable studies. The estimated impact on actual voters ranges from 1 percent to 12 percent, depending on the state. Even using the most conservative figure, this amounts to more than 1.6 million voters nationwide.
Some are hurt more than others by this. Roughly 18 percent of seniors don’t have the right ID. Only 5 percent of Anglo voters but at least 10 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of Latino voters don’t have the right ID.
These are survey results. Other measures are less reliable. Comparing census results to Department of Motor Vehicles records to see who has ID overlooks expired licenses and people who move out of state. Comparing voter turnout to see the effect of these new rules — looking at Georgia and Indiana from 2004 to 2008, for example — neglects other factors, including national mood, weather and a states’ new battleground status in a contested presidential campaign with a minority candidate at the top of the ticket.
Want to know who doesn’t have the right ID? Ask ’em.