State ID Legislation Threatens to Disenfranchise Homeless Voters

“If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote.” This is South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s justification for a new bill in the state that requires voters to produce photographic identification at the polls. Signed into law on May 18th, the bill also requires voters to produce a voter registration card, and one containing a photograph can be acquired for free with a birth certificate or passport.

South Carolina is far from alone in passing this measure. As of date, fourteen states have passed laws requiring photo identification, with sixteen more having other proof of residence voting requirements, such as presenting a credit card, utility bill, birth certificate, or paycheck if the voter does not have another form of identification. The stated goal of most supporters of this kind of legislation is to reduce voter fraud by making it more difficult for people to vote more than once in an election or for non-citizens to vote.

This trend is only becoming more and more widespread: according to The Brennan Center for Justice, “at least 37 states are considering or have considered voter ID and/or proof of citizenship” bills in this legislative session alone. The graph below shows the astounding recent increase in photo ID legislation passage:

These measures may in fact disenfranchise many American citizens who would otherwise be able to vote. A New York Times Editorial arguing against this type of legislation cites a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice which finds that 11% of American citizens who are of voting age (21 million people) do not have up-to-date photo identification, with that percentage being significantly higher among those with low incomes (15%) and African-Americans (25%). Furthermore, this was a phone survey, so the nation’s entire homeless population was, in all likelihood, not remotely accounted for in the results. If anything, these percentages are likely to be higher among the entire American electorate.

In theory, making photographic identification free, as some of these laws also do, should make it easy for citizens to acquire one and be able to vote. However, it is not that simple. Although most of these state laws have alternatives to using identification on election day, such as provisional ballots and affidavit forms, many of them still put a de facto price on voting for those who simply do not have the means to easily obtain a birth certificate, find out their Social Security number, or to make a trip to the DMV for a state-issued ID, such as the impoverished, disabled, and homeless. The key problem here, as was outlined by Professor Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School in a NPR discussion on the topic, is that “it takes ID to get ID.” Even if finances are not an issue, which they certainly are for individuals and families experiencing homelessness, it can still be “quite difficult to round up the documentation necessary to get documentation. It ends up a little bit of a bureaucratic cycle,” possibly causing voter apathy.

Overall, this legislation puts even more roadblocks in the way for the homeless to vote than there already are. Even though its supporters may indeed have the noble intention of reducing voter fraud, the issue of fraud itself is virtually “nonexistent” according to the New York Times. Regardless of how large or small of a problem voter fraud actually is, the large possibility remains that a surprisingly large number of Americans, at least 21 million, stand to effectively lose their vote if this legislation spreads nationwide unless they acquire a photo ID, which is certainly easier said than done for our marginalized populations, including the homeless.

To find out your state’s current voter identification laws, you can visit the National Conference of State Legislatures voter ID page. Also, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice has an up to date report on the progress of voter ID legislation by state.

By Daniel Honeycutt

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7 Responses to State ID Legislation Threatens to Disenfranchise Homeless Voters

  1. Rosemary Graham-Gardner says:

    Regardless of their status of habitation, every Citizen in this country should have a right to vote! Nowhere in the Law does it ever mention that in order to be able to vote, one should have a roof over one’s head, especially nowadays, when a lot of Citizens have lost their homes because of irresponsible and greedy lending practices of mortgate companies and Banks. They should go to jail and not be receiving millions in bonuses ever again!

  2. Charlotte Volpe says:

    “The issue of fraud is virtually ‘nonexistent’ according to the New York Times.” What, you don’t even trust the most well-known paper in the U.S.?

  3. admin says:

    Charlotte, I’m afraid you may be misunderstanding our post. Our statement is a paraphrasing of information in the cited New York Times Editorial article. If you look at paragraph 7, you’ll see that the author mentions one case where there is very little prosecuted voter fraud in a state where ID laws have been passed: “That’s fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it’s necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.” We appreciate your skepticism, but hope that you will take the time to understand the perspective of our article. Thanks!

  4. William Ryan says:

    Perhaps advocates should just come out and state it is irrelevant to be a United States citizen anymore, since one of the benefits attributed to citizenship is the ability to vote on the representatives of the people. The push is obvious; voter registation should be as easy as possible, with essentially no need to prove citizenship or identity.

  5. Thanatopsis says:

    This is news to me since I don’t vote, but I’m very surprised that presenting ID wasn’t commonly a requirement all along.

  6. My organisation works extensively in homelessness in inner city Melbourne, Australia. In contrast to these disturbing developments, the government electoral commission have worked cooperatively with us to boost enrolment and participation among homeless people. They locate electoral staff at our free medical clinic, The Living Room, for a week or more to educate and inspire, and our centre is used as the formal address for enrolment. Equally 9 August was the official Census in Australia and Bureau of Statistics staff again located with us for a week to ensure homeless people were included. We had 49 clients fill out a census form. This shows that formal photo ID is not needed and there are alternative methods of inclusion that work successfully eg in Australia. Good luck in your campaign.

  7. Larry Scott says:

    The usual Draconian solution is presented for a non-existant problem.

    The sudden, phony outrage over voter fraud is all about VOTE fraud in the form of disenfranchising as many potentail Democrat voters as possible.

    That is all this issue is about, keeping legit voters from casting votes for the “wrong” party.

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