Study: 500,000 Americans Could Face Significant Challenges to Obtain Photo ID to Vote

July 18, 2012

Report Undercuts Claim That Voters Can Easily Acquire Free IDs

Contact: Erik Opsal, erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646-292-8356; Madeline Friedman, madeline.friedman@nyu.edu, 646-292-8357

New York, NY – Nearly 500,000 eligible voters in 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws live in households without vehicles and reside at least 10 miles from an ID-issuing office open more than two days a week, a new Brennan Center for Justice study found. Because many of these voters may not have driver’s licenses — and nearly all live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options — it could be significantly harder for them to get an ID and cast a ballot.

The Brennan Center’s study undercuts the claim by many politicians in restrictive ID states that eligible voters can easily obtain a free ID to vote. A federal court considered this issue last week during a trial over Texas’s voter ID law, and Pennsylvania’s ID law will go before a state judge next Wednesday.

Audio of a media conference call discussing the report is available here.

“The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, but new voter ID laws are preventing eligible Americans from participating in our democracy,” said Keesha Gaskins, Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center and co-author of The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification. “Voters find closed offices, long trips without cars and spotty public transit, and prohibitive costs for documents needed to get ID. Unless states with voter identification laws address these barriers now, many eligible citizens could lose their opportunity to vote this November.”

The Center’s research shows 1 in 10 eligible voters lack the necessary government-issued photo ID required by new restrictive voter ID laws, including 25 percent of African-Americans and 18 percent of Americans over 65.

Even if someone seeking photo ID manages to travel to an ID-issuing office, there is no guarantee it will be open during regular business hours. In Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi, fewer than half of all ID-issuing offices are open five days a week. None are open on weekends. And some offices maintain truly unusual hours: the office in Woodville, Mississippi is open only on the second Thursday of each month.

The report also provides an extensive look at the scarcity of ID-issuing offices in areas heavily populated by people of color and those in poverty — the exact population that most lack government-issued photo ID.

In 11 Alabama counties within the rural “black belt,” there are more than 60,000 eligible black voters but no driver’s license offices open more than two days per week. In Texas, in 32 counties near the Mexico border, there are 80,000 Hispanic eligible voters but only two such ID-issuing offices. Across the voter ID states, many of the offices with limited hours are located in rural areas with high concentrations of minority voters.

More than 1 million eligible voters in these 10 photo ID states fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office. These voters can be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. By comparison, the notorious poll tax — outlawed during the civil rights era — cost $10.64 in current dollars.

“Every American citizen should have the opportunity to vote, but these restrictive laws could make it harder for hundreds of thousands to exercise that right,” said Sundeep Iyer, Principal Quantitative Analyst at the Center and co-author of the report. “Instead of making it more difficult for citizens to go to the polls, we need new laws to modernize our voting system so all eligible Americans can vote on Election Day while reducing the potential for fraud or abuse.”

The 10 restrictive voter ID states examined in the report are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Five of the laws are currently in effect (Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee). The other five are either awaiting federal approval (Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas), on appeal after being found unconstitutional under state law (Wisconsin), or not scheduled to go into effect until after 2012 (Alabama).

Read the Brennan Center’s comprehensive study on how new restrictive voting laws could make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. For more information, see our Election 2012 page.

To set up an interview with one of the Center’s voting experts, contact Erik Opsal (erik.opsal@nyu.edu, 646-292-8356) or Madeline Friedman (madeline.friedman@nyu.edu, 646-292-8357).

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