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State Voter-ID Laws: Voter Integrity or Exclusion?

Voter Photo ID laws are being considered in more and more states these days. So far, ten states have enacted voter-ID laws that will discriminate against disadvantaged groups, such as minorities and seniors. Unfortunately, as this comes under the state jurisdiction, the US Department of Justice has little recourse in the matter. This article takes a look at the arguments for and against voter-ID laws.

Voter-ID Laws

Voter-ID laws are becoming more common throughout the United States, bringing more attention to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In brief, Sec. 5 requires that the US Department of Justice “preclear” any attempt to change “any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting… in any covered jurisdiction.” The government has justified Sec. 5 under the Fifteenth Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote and prohibiting racial discrimination.

Counties which have passed new voter-ID laws believe that the provision actually violates the Tenth Amendment, which protects states’ right to regulate elections. They argue that it unfairly gives states different levels of sovereignty by treating some differently than others.

In brief, voter identification laws require voters to produce specific government-issued identification (usually with a photo and expiration date) to cast a ballot. Although the integrity of elections is vital, the requirement to produce voter-ID means that many voters could be excluded from participating in elections. Many studies show that one in ten eligible voters lack these specific identification documents.

Proponents of voter-ID laws make the following arguments in support of such legislation:

  • Requiring voters to authenticate their identity at the polling place is necessary to protect the integrity and confidence of citizens in US elections.
  • Voter ID can prevent and deter impersonation fraud, voting under fictitious voter registrations, double voting by individuals registered in more than one state, and voting by illegal aliens.
  • Numerous studies have shown that voter IS requirements do not decrease the turnout of voters or have a disproportionate impact on minority, poor, or elderly voters.
  • Turnout has increased in states that have implemented voter ID laws (e.g. Georgia, Indiana), and courts have consistently dismissed litigation against such laws, because of the inability of plaintiffs to produce a single individual who would be unable to vote because of the voter-ID requirement.
  • According to public opinion polls, the American people overwhelmingly support this common-sense reform.

Unfair Impact on Minority and Disadvantaged Groups

The Brennan Center for Justice recently released a study on voter-ID legislation entitled The Challenge for Obtaining Voter Identification. The study examined states, including Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, which have all enacted restrictive legislation for government-issued photo ID requirements. Across the US, 11% of eligible voters lack the required ID. Among the African American population, this number rises to one in four eligible voters.

“For this study, we wanted to look at how difficult it would be for those estimated three to four million voters in the affected states to obtain voter ID,” commented Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel at the Brennan Center and the co-author of the voter identification study. “What we found really undercuts the claim by many proponents of these laws that eligible voters can easily obtain an ID to vote.”

The Brennan Center study found that in states such as “Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, and Texas – many part-time ID-issuing offices are in the rural regions with the highest concentrations of people of color and people in poverty.”

Voting-ID laws present barriers for more than just rural populations. For instance, in Rock Hill, SC, “the city’s largest concentration of eligible black voters – nearly 42,000 of them – live in the city center. Yet the city’s one ID-issuing office is located seven miles outside the city center. The city has no regularly scheduled public transportation; the only available public transportation to an ID office requires 48 hours notice for a scheduled pick up.”

The study is peppered with evidence of the disproportionate, collective impact of limited offices or office hours for the ID-issuing agencies, and the barrier that lack of public transportation, that falls on mainly African-American and Latino populations.

Wisconsin Bars Enforcement of Voter-ID Laws

On July 17, 2012, a Dane County judge permanently prohibited enforcement of the voter ID requirements of Wisconsin’s voter law, on the grounds that it imposes too great a burden on voters than the state constitution allows.

Judge David Flanagan ruled that Wisconsin Act 23 (the voter-ID law):

“… tells more than 300,000 Wisconsin voters who do not now have an acceptable form of photo identification that they cannot vote unless they first obtain a photo ID card… Given the sacred, fundamental interest at issue, it is clear that Act 23, while perhaps addressing a legitimate concern, is not sufficiently narrow to avoid needless and significant impairment of the right to vote.”

Summary

Voter identification (voter-ID) laws require voters to produce specific government-issued identification (usually with a photo and expiration date) to cast a ballot. Although the integrity of elections is vital, the requirement to produce voter-ID means that many voters could be excluded from participating in elections. Many studies have shown that voter-ID laws disproportionately impact visible minority groups, seniors and other disadvantaged groups.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/US Government (CIPP/G) exam, a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Privacy and personally identifiable information (PII) (I.A.a.i.)
  • Laws compelling the disclosure of personal data (I.B.b.)
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