The cornerstone of the Declaration of Independence – that all men are created equal – is being undermined by a rash of restrictive laws that force US citizens to endure long journeys, eccentric opening hours and hidden costs before they can vote, a new study finds. The research, by the Brennan Center for Justice within New York University, finds that almost 500,000 eligible voters are being required to travel more than 10 miles to a government office – even though they have no car. More than 1 million eligible voters below the federal poverty line are now expected to pay costs of up to $25 before they can vote. The report looks at the impact of voter ID laws that have been introduced since 2011 in 10 states that require US citizens to obtain a government-issued photo identification card before they can cast their ballot. Proponents of the new laws claim they are needed to combat fraud and that they impose no burden on citizens because ID cards can easily be obtained free of charge. But the Brennan Center report gives the lie to that claim, exposing the many different ways in which hundreds of thousands of Americans will find it harder to vote. The burden falls particularly harshly on poor and black communities where transport and public services are limited.
One in 10 eligible voters lack the government-issued photo ID cards they now need within the 10 states before they can cast their ballot. Yet the Brennan Center found that of those, more than 10 million people live more than 10 miles away from the nearest public office where they can obtain such cards. They might make the journey, only to find the office closed. Some offices maintain hours that can only be described as bizarre. The office in Sauk City, Wisconsin opens only on the fifth Wednesday of any month – a quirk of the calendar that happens only four times this year, in February, May, August and October.
By federal law, the photo ID cards have to be provided free. Yet in order to persuade the authorities to issue a card, citizens often have to produce a birth certificate that can cost up to $25, or, in the case of married women whose birth certificate contains a maiden name, a marriage license at up to $20. “Every American citizen should have the opportunity to vote, but these restrictive laws could make it harder for hundreds of thousands to exercise that right,” said Sundeep Iyer, co-author of the Brennan Center report.