WASHINGTON -- A half-million Americans in 10 states with voter identification laws face serious challenges to obtaining the necessary photo documentation, according to a report released Wednesday by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.
The report found that while legal precedent requires states to provide free voter IDs to eligible residents who don't have them, even free IDs are not always easy to obtain. Structural barriers such as lack of transportation, restricted access to ID-issuing offices, the cost of necessary documentation, and bureaucratic red tape could prevent many Americans from voting in November.
About 11 percent of eligible voters lack current government-issued photo IDs, and "seniors, low-income individuals [and] minority voters are particularly overrepresented within that group," the report's co-author Keesha Gaskins told reporters in a conference call Wednesday afternoon.
"The response of proponents of these laws has been, well, just get an ID," said Lawrence Norton, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program. "Unfortunately, for many people, this is not going to be such a simple solution."
Among the report's findings: In the 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws -- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- nearly 500,000 eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office that is open more than two days a week. More than 10 million eligible voters in those states live more than 10 miles from such offices, a number that includes 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters.
"The idea that we're forcing certain people to go through these very difficult, extra hoops, I think, is antithetical to some of the founding principles of this country," Norton said.
Gaskins noted that these laws could have some significant political ramifications come November. In Pennsylvania, for instance, where the number of voters lacking state-issued photo ID is greater than President Barack Obama's margin of victory there in 2008, "we're really talking about a population of individuals that can influence the outcome," she said.
Indeed, the new laws, passed in a mix of GOP strongholds and swing states, are widely seen to favor the Republican Party. In Pennsylvania, it seems possible the photo ID requirement could tip the balance to Mitt Romney in November.
Last month, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, admitted as much when he included the passing of a voter ID law in a list of other GOP achievements. He said the new law "is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
A study released on Wednesday by the Philadelphia Inquirer found that the law could have major effects in the strongly Democratic city of Philadelphia. In the city alone, more than one in four active voters over the age of 80 -- roughly 12,000 individuals -- do not have the necessary photo ID. Among Philadelphia voters who have participated in at least one election over the last four years, the state found roughly 136,000 individuals whose names and birth dates did not match any ID issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, possibly barring them from voting.
The new voter ID laws are facing legal opposition. In Wisconsin, a judge blocked implementation of the state's voter ID law on Tuesday, citing concerns that eligible voters may have difficulty obtaining the necessary identification. It's the second time the state's law has been blocked, and it means the law likely won't be in effect for the November elections.
Appearing at the NAACP convention in Houston last week, Attorney General Eric Holder said of the laws, "We call those poll taxes." He vowed that "the Justice Department's efforts to uphold and enforce voting rights will remain aggressive."
Read the Brennan Center report:
Florida Eliminates Early Voting On Sundays
Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as <a href="http://www.postonpolitics.com/2012/03/black-dems-trying-to-change-sunday-pre-election-voting-restriction/" target="_hplink">many as 30 percent</a> of black voters have previously cast ballots after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister. "It's my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it's playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional," Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.
Photo ID Firestorm Rocks South Carolina
The Justice Department <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/23/south-carolina-voter-id-law_n_1168162.html" target="_hplink">dealt a blow </a>to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/07/south-carolina-voter-id-law-lawsuit-justice-department_n_1260369.html" target="_hplink">with a lawsuit</a> that is expected to be decided in September. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this year that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the <a href="http://westashley.patch.com/articles/democrats-combat-voter-id-law-by-organizing#video-9786253" target="_hplink">West Ashley Patch reports</a>. "I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."
Disenfranchised Grandmother Sues Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania. Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-law-viviette-applewhite_n_1472192.html" target="_hplink">filed a lawsuit </a>with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote. Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/montco_memo/142671935.html" target="_hplink">700,000 Pennsylvanians</a> lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">the Brennan Center</a>, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.
Kansas Moves To Accelerate Proof Of Citizenship Law
The Kansas House <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">voted earlier this year</a> to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election. HuffPost's John Celock <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/voter-id-law-kansas-proof-of-citizenship-2012_n_1500109.html" target="_hplink">reports</a>: <blockquote>Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.<br> Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.</blockquote> Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">according to the Brennan Center</a>. The bill to change the start date <a href="http://salinapost.com/2012/05/10/kobach-concedes-kansas-voter-citizenship-plan-dead/" target="_hplink">eventually failed</a>, but will still go into effect next year.
Wisconsin Law Continues To Disenfranchise Voters After Suspension
Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/wisconsin-voter-id-law-scott-walker_n_867090.html" target="_hplink">signed a voter ID bill into law</a>, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." As Walker's June 5 recall election approached, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional</a>. Still, poll workers <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/03/wisconsin-voters-id-photo-suspension_n_1401476.html" target="_hplink">reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID</a> during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls </a>because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote. "We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/04/wisconsin-voter-id-polls_n_1403864.html" target="_hplink">told the <em>Milwaukee Journal Sentinel</em></a>.