Photo ID has been a hard-fought battle in the 2011 legislative session.
- In Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, supporters of restrictive voter identification measures have been successful in passing laws requiring photo ID for in-person voting at the polls.
- In Kansas, Texas, and Wisconsin photo ID requirements are now in place for absentee balloting.
- In Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina,vetoes prevented photo ID measures from being passed into law.
- In many states— Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—photo ID measures didn’t make it out of the legislature—at least not yet.
In response, photo ID supporters have turned to ballot measures and initiative and referendum processes to pass laws restricting access to the polls. This Astroturf movement to enact photo ID laws has been effective in Missouri and Mississippi, where both states will see ballot measures on this issue. The Minnesota legislature introduced a bill in the July 2011 Special Session allowing for a constitutional amendment that would appear on the November 2012 statewide ballot. A city councilmember in Massachusetts has begun a signature petition to get a photo ID measure onto the ballot in the Commonwealth. These new ballot measures are not part of a grassroots movement; rather they are being pushed by legislators, and other elected officials, to advance a very specific political agenda.
Photo ID is a polarizing issue and often polls well—particularly amongst those who do not understand the disenfranchising effect of strict new photo ID requirements. As more and more voters are called upon to decide whether the minority of voters who do not have a photo ID should be prevented from voting, we must remember that this is a true test of our democracy. Those who choose to exercise their right to vote should not be denied access to the polls by operation of circumstance, financial condition or physical infirmity.
In our nation, popular support has at one time or another provided the basis for the existence of slavery, use of child labor, denial of women’s suffrage, denial of civil rights to minority populations, and denial of civil rights to gays and lesbians. Anytime a law serves to disenfranchise Americans, block access to the polls, or limit the ability of any American to participate in the democratic processes that allow her to be part of a self-determining electorate, it should be considered with the utmost scrutiny, not justified by its momentary popularity. Voting is the right of every American citizen. To protect the rights of all Americans, we must stand up to protect the right to vote for every American.