ID'ing the Problem with the ID Requirement

On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department gave clearance to a new law in Georgia that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls on Election Day. As the Associated Press noted in their story,

“Nineteen states require voters to show identification, but only five request photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Those states — Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and South Dakota — allow voters without a photo ID to use other forms of identification or sign an affidavit of identity. “The decision to clear the measure now gives Georgia the most draconian voter identification requirement in the nation,” said Daniel Levitas of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.”.

The problem with the law is that many people don’t have drivers licenses. A study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee estimated that

  • approximately 20 percent of Wisconsin residents do not have a drivers license.
  • 23 percent of individuals 65 or older do not have drivers licenses, and 70 percent of these people are women.
  • only 45 percent of African American males and 51 percent of females have a drivers license.
  • 54 percent of Hispanic males and 45 percent of females have a drivers license.

The numbers are even lower in Milwaukee, where public transportation makes it easier to be mobile without having a drivers license.

This is yet another example of a change being made to election laws to make it harder to vote in order to reduce fraud. These activities have ebbed and flowed over the past 100 years, and not just in places we think of as having a history of having poll taxes or literacy tests. Remember, New York state had literacy tests starting in 1922, a law later overturned by the Supreme Court. Alexander Keyssar wrote the definitive book on the history of these and other voting laws in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States.

There is a great need to study not only the affect of these laws on participation, but also ways of addressing this problem of so many Americans not having official identification. Studying the impact of the law in Georgia can happen now; they are running a special election on Tuesday.