Free voter IDs still burdensome for poor people, says voting rights group

ByABC News
July 19, 2012, 1:04 PM

— -- Even when making required photo identification free to eligible voters, the process still poses significant burdens to many poor voters, according to a new study from the Brennan Center for Justice, a voting rights advocacy organization.

Ten states have laws in effect for 2012 with restrictive voter ID requirements, according to the center and other organizations: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The laws are so limiting that these states risk voter disenfranchisement, says the center.

"The response of proponents of these laws has been, 'Well, just get an ID and if in fact you're too poor to pay for it, we'll give you the ID for free," Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. "Unfortunately for many people, this is not going to be such a simple solution."

Nearly 500,000 eligible voters in these 10 states do not have access to a vehicle and live over 10 miles from the closest office where they can obtain the type of identification required to vote in their state, according to the center's study, which came out this week. Many offices maintain limited or odd hours, such as being open only one day a month. Additionally, some eligible voters in those states face an added challenge in that they have to pay for the underlying documentation necessary to obtain the photo identification.

The center estimates that 11 percent of eligible voters in the U.S. currently do not possess the type of photo-issued government ID required by these restrictive laws. Most of those affected are minorities.

Attorney General Eric Holder recently decried the hidden cost of free photo IDs, referring to the new voter ID laws in 10 states as "poll taxes."

"Many of those without ID would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes," Holder said during an address to the NAACP July 10.

A number of these laws face legal challenges. In Texas, voters currently await a decision from D.C. District Court judges on whether their state voter ID law discriminates against minorities. In South Carolina, the Justice Department is pushing to block a new voter ID law, saying it disproportionately affects black voters.

These laws not only potentially disenfranchise voters, but they could also have strong electoral implications as well this year, Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel for the Brennan Center's Democracy Program and co-author of the report, told reporters Wednesday.

In Pennsylvania, for example, the center estimates 750,000 voters lack the required type of photo ID. Barack Obama carried that state in 2008 by 600,000 votes.

As Yahoo News has reported, new voter ID laws have sparked fierce partisan controversy across the country this cycle. Both sides of the debate attribute the rise of stricter ID requirements to an influx of Republicans and conservatives in legislative offices around the country.

Voter ID supporters desire to reduce or eliminate voter fraud with the new requirements and argue that these types of photo identification are already required for many activities in the U.S., such as purchasing alcohol and flying a commercial airline.