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Kelly Kleiman Headshot

Voter Suppression and Driving While Black

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I got a ticket on Wednesday for changing lanes without signaling. (Yes, Chicago's coffers are in need of a refill.) Because I'm no longer a motor club member, I no longer have a bond card, the thing you can give the cop instead of your license. So she took my license, and now I'm driving on the ticket.

But here's the thing: I want to vote early, and to do so in Chicago I'm required to show a government-issued photo ID -- like, oh, say, my driver's license, which I won't have back until I complete traffic safety school and mail them $167. And even if I do that today, there's very little chance I will receive my license back in the mail by November 6, much less in time to vote early.

Now, as it happens I have a passport, so I'll be able to get around this difficulty. But when I realized the impact my ticket could have on my ability to vote, it occurred to me that this is another way in which voter ID laws help suppress voting by minority-group members, the young and the elderly.

We're all familiar with the traffic offense of DWB: Driving While Black or Driving While Brown. Non-white motorists are more likely to be stopped for moving violations than whites, and more likely to be ticketed when they're stopped. The ones who, like me, don't have bond cards -- whether because they can't afford motor club membership or they just never thought of it -- will have to surrender their licenses; and then, unless they happen to have passports (also less likely, statistically, than among white people) they won't be able to vote in states requiring government-issued photo ID So combine discriminatory policing with photo ID laws and you've got a perfect tool for keeping black and brown people from the polls.

The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations because they're actually driving badly; but once again, that shouldn't deprive them (us?) of the franchise. And the same can be said for young drivers, who may be careless behind the wheel but who nonetheless have Constitutional rights (see Amendment 26).

So the next time someone tells you that voter ID laws are fine because "everyone has a driver's license," ask if s/he's ever had to drive on a ticket. Then mention that this commonplace experience would mean the inability to vote, and see what s/he has to say.