“What’s So Bad About Voter ID Laws?”
From an article on the national League of Women Voters website: https://www.lwv.org/blog/whats-so-bad-about-voter-id-laws
By Patty Santry - presented at the September 2023 “Saturdays in the Park” Coast event
I stumbled upon a provocatively titled article on the national League website called “What’s So Bad About Voter ID Laws?” In fact, voter ID is very popular: a Gallup poll last year reported 8 in 10 supporting “... photo identification at their voting place in order to vote”. And perhaps surprisingly, this poll reported 51% of Democrats supported it; not surprisingly 97% of Republicans do. The rationale is, “If I have to use photo ID to write a check at the grocery store, why don’t I need to when exercising my most important right as an American citizen?”
Some ill-informed and many gullible people contend that voter ID is needed to prevent “widespread voter fraud,” when in fact, voter fraud is extremely rare. An Associated Press review of every potential case of voter fraud in the six battleground states disputed by former President Donald Trump has found fewer than 475 — a number that would have made no difference in the 2020 presidential election.
With deeper analysis of the various voter ID laws, one realizes that this in many cases is yet another form of “voter suppression.”
A Short Background on Voter Suppression
During an all-too-brief period after the Civil War, with the aid of Federal troops in the South, the transition from slave to American citizen proceeded rapidly, such that voters elected hundreds of African American state representatives and 16 African American U.S. representatives and senators.
This progress abruptly ended with the presidential election of 1876, in which candidate Rutherford B. Hayes entered into a nefarious agreement which secured him the one additional electoral vote he needed to secure the presidency. The cost: Hayes pledged to withdraw all remaining Federal troops from the South, which effectively ended Reconstruction. And thus began the notorious “Jim Crow” era of intimidation, violence, and legislative changes wreaking voter suppression on African American citizens.
Prior to the 1960s, two common methods of voter suppression were:
- Poll taxes - where targeted groups were required to pay a fee to register to vote, to obtain a ballot or to vote OR all three!
- Literacy tests - where targeted groups were required to answer often challenging questions designed to ensure failure.
Poll taxes and literacy tests continued through much of the 20th century – thanks in large part to the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling (under Chief Justice Earl Warren) that those practices did not violate the Fourteenth, Fifteenth or Seventeenth amendments to the Constitution.
With the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts (in 1964 and 65), these most egregious forms of voter suppression were deemed illegal.
Which brings us back to Voter ID Laws – a more subtle form of voter suppression. In and of themselves, Voter ID Laws appear to be innocuous.
However, the implementation in many of the “anti-democracy” states demonstrates the underlying purpose of voter suppression.
Some label Voter ID Laws as a renewed form of “poll tax.” The cost to obtain a valid Voter ID (including a driver’s license, a passport, etc.) can be prohibitively expensive for our low income citizens. And tracking down the needed birth certificate or other documentation for state-issued ID can be both expensive and complicated. It can be even more complicated for those who don’t have permanent residences. For certain voters - poor, unemployed and young - these can be major barriers.
The first Voter ID Law was instituted in South Carolina in 1950 – today 36 states require some form of Voter ID.
Although the League of Women Voters does not have an explicit position on Voter ID Laws, it asserts that “...In combination with the ineffectiveness of voter ID laws at preventing the rare instances of voter fraud, the more likely results of voter ID laws are voter suppression and reduced turnout among vulnerable populations.”
In reality, however, given the wide support for Voter ID by both Republicans AND Democrats, it’s increasingly likely to become a universal requirement.
What Can YOU Do?
In the meantime, if this is an issue that is important to you, there is action you should consider. The national League of Women Voters has partnered with an organization called “VoteRiders,” which was founded in 2012. Their mission is to ensure that all US citizens 18 years of age or older are able to exercise their right to vote. Through resources and media exposure, its main focus is assisting citizens who want to secure their voter ID. VoteRiders is considered the leading nonpartisan voting rights organization providing voter ID solutions In the United States.
We will provide additional information on how you can help in this effort as we head into election season.