In a close presidential election, the new state voter ID laws could have a real effect.
In the presidential election this year, some states will require that voters show a photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, to be eligible to vote. What is more, the address on the ID needs to match the voter registration rolls.
Why has this become such a big deal across party lines? The argument is that these laws are seen as a strategy to swing the vote in the November election by influencing turnout and voting eligibility. As such, the concern is that they are politically motivated.
Before the 2006 election, no state in the U.S. had identification laws of this kind. Indiana became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law in that year. Today some states require a government-issued photo as the proof of identity for voting, while other states accept a utility bill or bank statement. Eleven states require by law that voters show government-issued photo IDs, with 27 considering the introduction of these laws.
See voter ID requirements by state.
Republicans argue that these rules are needed to avoid voter fraud. Nine of the eleven states that have passed photo ID laws have Republican governors. This concern has been examined in a New York Times analysis from 2007, which identified a small number of cases.
Democrats claim these laws impact members of minority communities who may not have ID cards. Patricia Smith in the The New York Times Upfront writes, “an estimated 21 million Americans – poor elderly, black or Hispanic – don’t have government ID cards. And many of them tend to vote Democratic.”
A study from New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center found that 11 percent of voting-age citizens, or roughly 21 million citizens, lack photo ID. And people in rural areas face the additional hurdle of accessing ID offices with more than 10 million eligible voters living more than 10 miles from the nearest office.
The battle goes on as five federal lawsuits have been filed this year to challenge the new laws as unconstitutional under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, on the grounds that the requirements would effectively disenfranchise voters.
Meanwhile, as November approaches, it may well be that a considerable number of Americans will be unable to cast their ballot as a result of this new restrictive legislation.
The Politics Behind New Voter ID Laws, NPR, August 2012
In Voter ID Debate, A Few Go Against Party Lines, KQED News, November 2011
New Target In Voter ID Battle: 1965 Voting Rights Act, KQED News, August 2012