The Brennan Center for Justice has just released a new, must read, report , The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification, that focuses on 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.
This report conclusively demonstrates that this promise of free voter ID is a mirage. In the real world, poor voters find shuttered offices, long drives without cars, and with spotty or no bus service, and sometimes prohibitive costs. For these Americans, the promise of our democracy is tangibly distant. It can be measured in miles.
… making the ID itself free does not address the significant obstacles that can make it difficult for Americans who lack the required photo ID to obtain one. Many of these voters do not have a car and will have to rely on public transportation — where it exists — to travel to a far-away government office. That office may be open only a few hours a week, and rarely on weekends or in the evening. Voters may have to miss work or arrange for childcare to make the trip. And even if they can make it there, they may not be able to afford the costly supporting documentation — such as birth certificates or marriage licenses — required to apply for photo ID.
The information included about Alabama is shocking:
- 32.7%, or 1,137,724, voting age Alabama citizens live more than 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office which is open more than 2 days a week
- 6.1% of voting age Alabama citizens (213,386) have no vehicle access.
- 26.8% of those voting age Alabama citizens with no vehicle access (57,285) also live 10 miles or more from the nearest state ID-issuing office that's open more than 2 days a week
- Alabama has the lowest per capita investment in public transportation of any state in the study — zero dollars.
Beyond the difficulties of travel and acquiring the necessary supporting documents, the offices (drivers license offices in Alabama) which issue these IDs are not open all the time. Under “Idiosyncratic Hours” the Brennan report notes that :
In Alabama, the Rockford office is open only on the third Thursday of the month.
Imagine you live in the Rockford area, you realize you need the new ID to vote, you are able to lay hands on your birth certificate and your marriage license (if you're a married woman) AND you find someone willing to drive you to the office. But you get there on Wednesday.
Or say you know the office is only open on Thursday. But you get there on the second Thursday.
Or on the first or fourth or even the elusive fifth Thursday of the month.
Imagine the frustration and imagine how many people who experience that will never make it around to getting back to that office with all the necessary supporting documents on the correct day — and during the often limited hours — to try again. Burdensome? Yes it is. And it will happen all over Alabama's Black Belt.
… in 11 contiguous counties in Alabama, all of which are squarely located in the black belt, all state driver’s license offices are part-time and are open only one or two days per week. More than 135,000 eligible voters live in these 11 counties. Nearly half of them are black, and the black poverty rate is 41 percent.
As the report notes, it doesn't have to be this way.
Once partisan “voting wars” have subsided, we can easily move to modernize our ramshackle voter registration system. Using digital technology, states can assure that every eligible voter is on the rolls. That would add millions to the rolls, cost less, and curb the potential for fraud.
We could spend time doing those things, but we don't, because one political party has realized that the fewer people who can vote, the better their chances of winning elections. This reminds me so much of the situation that gave us the 1901 Constitution in Alabama, where the wealthy planters realized it was getting harder and harder to steal elections so they had to shut those voters likely to oppose them out of elections altogether.