By Robert Schlesinger |
All men are created equal, says the Declaration of Independence. But not all voter ID laws. Some (like the one in federal law) are flexible, to try to make sure that every eligible citizen can be identified and can vote. Others are stricter, designed in a way that will keep large swaths of the population from voting. Unfortunately, there has been a concerted effort to push strict voter ID laws this past year—an effort that has resulted in eight new laws requiring voters to show forms of ID that many Americans don't have.
More than 20 million Americans—one in 10 eligible voters—do not have the kinds of photo ID required by strict new state voter ID laws, according to research by the Brennan Center and others. Some are even harder hit: Eighteen percent of older Americans, 18 percent of citizens aged 18 to 24, and 25 percent of African-Americans don't have these kinds of photo IDs. It is wrong to pass laws that block some Americans from voting and to deny them the opportunity to participate equally in our democracy.
These ID laws affect real people.
Viviette Applewhite is 92 years old and uses a wheelchair. She was a wartime welder and marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the civil rights movement. But she does not have a driver's license or other state photo ID to vote. So far, state officials have been unable to find her birth certificate, which she needs to get a new state ID. She is currently part of a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's voter ID law, which would prevent her from voting this year.
These laws also affect elections. Indeed, that appears to be their main point. The Republican leader of the Pennsylvania legislature recently said new voter ID laws would "win the election" for Mitt Romney. A recent government report shows 758,000 registered Pennsylvania voters don't have the ID they now need to vote. All told, millions of eligible voters could find it harder to vote this year because of strict new ID laws and other voting changes.
Politics is one thing, but denying people the right to vote should not just be an acceptable political tactic. It's the one time we are all equal—when we cast our vote. And no one should mess with that.
About Wendy Weiser Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
Hans A. Von Spakovsky Senior Legal Fellow at the Heritage Foundation