Study finds voter ID laws could hamper thousands
By Mark Taylor Post-Tribune correspondent August 11, 2012 11:40PM
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:05AM
Thousands of Hoosiers may face difficulties in voting this November due to the state’s voter ID law and tougher documentation requirements implemented in 2010, according to a new study.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found that voter identification laws could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in 10 states with restrictive ID requirements, including Indiana. State identification cards are supposed to be free, but are not equally accessible to all voters, the study found.
The report found 500,000 eligible voters without cars who reside at least 10 miles away from identification-issuing offices open more than two days a week. More than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID issuing office, including 1.2 million blacks and 500,000 Hispanics. The research further showed that one in 10 eligible American voters lack the necessary government-issued photo ID, including 25 percent of blacks, 16 percent of Hispanics and 18 percent of U.S. seniors over 65.
The research concluded that voter ID laws will make it harder for hundreds of thousands of poor Americans to vote.
“They place a serious burden on a core constitutional right that should be universally available to every American citizen,” the study found.
While the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 upheld Indiana’s voter identification law, which requires voters to produce specific photo identification documents in order to vote, similar laws in Pennsylvania and Texas are facing legal challenges. The U.S. Justice Department is investigating statutes passed in Florida and elsewhere.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the Texas voter ID statute a poll tax, likening it to the fees once charged black voters to prevent them from voting. Supporters of the vote ID laws claim that they will reduce voter fraud, while opponents say they will suppress voting, disproportionately impacting poor and minority voters who lean Democratic.
Interim Indiana ACLU Director Frank Young characterized the situation as “fairly dire, because a lot of people are finding it pretty difficult to get IDs.”
Young said the stricter Secure ID documentation implemented in 2010 makes it even harder for Hoosiers to obtain the photo identification necessary to allow them to vote.
Gary lawyer Barbara Bolling, president of the Indiana Chapter of the NAACP, said if people are turned away the first time from obtaining an identification card, “it takes a rare person to go back, stand in line again, and be turned away a second or third time. Face it, most people aren’t aware of these restrictive identification requirements and will likely be turned away at least once.”
Bolling said this is no coincidence.
“This is orchestrated. It’s no secret that Republican leaders across the country have said their No. 1 priority is preventing Barack Obama from being re elected. And the states that have passed these voter identification laws almost all have Republican governors or legislators. I see this as part of a systematic, national attempt to tighten ID restrictions to suppress voting.”
Indiana BMV officials deny the identification requirements are related to the state’s voter ID law or attempts to restrict voter access, but are rooted in a Homeland Security Department directive to tighten identification restrictions to prevent terrorists from obtaining valid driver’s licenses.
Larry Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said the voter ID laws are a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
“These were passed for no good reason. It would be one thing if there was something that prompted this, such as widespread voter fraud. But there is little evidence of that. They just further restricted requirements to get IDs, which will disenfranchise many elderly, poor and minorities.”
Norden said Indiana and Georgia were the first to pass voter ID laws and since January 2011 Republican-dominated legislatures in 19 other states have passed such laws.
“It’s really going to be hard for folks to get there in some places that lack public transit.”
In addition, Norden pointed out, demanding all of the underlying documentation states such as Indiana require erects other barriers.
“That poses serious problems for many people because getting the documentation they need to get the photo IDs can cost a lot of money. Often these are older people, not very mobile and sometimes wheelchair bound, who don’t have driver’s licenses.”
Norden said many blacks born before the Civil Rights era weren’t issued birth certificates, and some were born at home. “Getting the required documentation without birth certificates is almost impossible.”
He said the Brennan Center found many cases of people having trouble obtaining the documents needed to vote. He said he’s amazed by the percentage of people who think they have the required identification, but do not.
“Almost one-third of Pennsylvanians thought they had the necessary identification to vote, but didn’t. Even though the Pennsylvania law has received a tremendous amount of publicity, many people still have no idea there’s this new requirement there. This is a recipe for many people to show up in at the polls who will be disappointed that they can’t vote.”