Voter ID Laws Marginalize People Without a Car

The 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965, twice thwarted by brutal police assaults, inspired Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act, which is now under attack through various state voter roll purges and photo ID laws. Photo: Charles Moore

Sustainable transportation advocates may read news headlines about new voter ID laws, roll their eyes at the prejudices of red-state legislators, and turn the page — at their own peril. This seemingly unrelated issue may have far-reaching consequences for transportation policy. New state laws mandating photo ID for voters threaten to disenfranchise nondrivers, and the skewed elections that would result could lead to political control by forces hostile to transit, cities, and even Safe Routes to Schools.

A report issued in early July by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law [PDF] spells out how the strictest new laws in ten states* discriminate against nondrivers.

The first, and most obvious, way is that drivers have a driver’s license, which can function as the required photo ID. That leaves nondrivers as prime targets of voter ID laws.

Source: Brennan Center

Eleven percent of eligible voters lack the necessary ID, and, as the table above illustrates, nearly half a million people in the 10 affected states both lack access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing government office.

To make matters worse, many of the same states now requiring photo ID for voting also fail to support transit. The report brings home the reality for the targeted voters:

Voter ID laws are especially burdensome for citizens in high-poverty areas. Not only are these eligible voters among the least likely to have photo ID, they are also among the least likely to have access to government services, such as public transportation… Citizens with limited vehicle access will be highly dependent on public transportation to obtain the ID necessary for voting. However, the states that passed the most restrictive voter ID laws are among the nation’s worst investors in public transportation… Seven of the ten restrictive voter ID states rank in the bottom half of the country when it comes to investment in public transportation.

The state with the highest per capita investment in transit in the nation is New York at $224.85. Of the 10 voter ID states, Pennsylvania spends the most ($94.77), then the amount drops off sharply to Wisconsin at $22.31, a tenth of New York’s spending. Indiana is next at $8.63. The miserable amounts diminish from there until the list reaches Alabama, which provides no state funding for transit at all. Mississippi and Georgia spend less than a dollar.

Getting a valid ID is made even harder because many issuing offices are open only a few days a week — or less. In Sauk City, Wisconsin, the office is open only on the fifth Wednesday of the month, but eight months in 2012 have only four Wednesdays.

Rural areas will be hit hardest by the new requirements, but even residents of cities will have a hard time obtaining the proper ID. Much as jobs have migrated to the suburbs, leaving nondrivers unable to search for work outside the range of transit, the government offices issuing voter ID are often located outside the downtowns where most of the affected citizens live. The report describes the situation in Knoxville, Tennessee:

The nearest ID-issuing office is 11 miles east of the city center, which is home to the city’s largest concentration of black voters. There are 61,600 eligible voters in downtown Knoxville who live more than five miles from that ID-issuing office; 26 percent of them are black, and 27.5 percent live in poverty. The office is not served by the city’s public bus system. This could pose a particular challenge for the 7,000 eligible voters living downtown who do not have a car.

The implications are clear: If you don’t drive, you become a second-class citizen. Sustainable transportation advocates in progressive cities may find it hard to believe that anyone in 2012 could lack a photo ID — and all too easy to ignore the plight of the South Carolinian born at home, lacking a birth certificate, and still living out in the country.

There are more people in that situation than you might think. Plenty of people don’t drive, don’t have photo ID, and don’t have the money to jump through all the hoops put before them. In Mississippi, according to the Brennan Report, “To secure government-issued photo ID, many voters will need a birth certificate. Yet the state requires a government-issued photo ID to obtain a certified copy of a birth certificate.” Where do you begin?

The people who are trying to suppress voting are the very ones slashing funds for transit and bike/ped improvements. Voters being disenfranchised overlap substantially with transit users and walkers, not with purveyors of sprawl and legislators slashing transportation funding. The connections are clear.

* The 10 states with the strictest new laws restricting the right to vote are: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. Seven other states have passed laws requiring photo ID for voters, and 16 more require some form of identification. These 10 are just the strictest.

45 thoughts on Voter ID Laws Marginalize People Without a Car

  1. oh grow up. ID is required for a huge array things…why should voting for the leader of the free world be the exception?

  2. of course, all those impoverished people need photo IDs to get on those airplanes they so frequently take…

  3. @a7f1a1e09e9e99dfeeec92cab96cb69b:disqus One of the many problems with it is that a DL is often a prerequisite to getting any other form of officially recognized ID, but the cost of getting a DL is too great for a good number of people. BTW, it’s expensive to take a driver’s ed class — and they are rarely offered free in public schools anymore. Then you have to access to a reliable, safe vehicle to practice in . . . . the list goes on. It’s too high a goalpost for people who are strapped for money, and you shouldn’t have to meet a minimum income threshold to vote — it’s a right in a democratic society.

  4. i think it’s reasonable to expect voters to produce an ID when voting. i’d want someone to verify my identity when i go to vote.

    like the commenter below said ID is needed for plenty of activities in our society. clearly, the problem isn’t voter ID laws but rather, the lack of accessibility of issuing offices. this not only results in an inability to vote but, also, the inability to participate in the many productive (and practically required) activities in our society like getting a job, opening a bank account, cashing a check, renting or buying a residence, etc.

    if you want to improve the plight of people marginalized by this law you should be pushing for better access to ID issuing offices. not having an ID is more damaging than not being able to vote, in my opinion.

  5. TP, 

    You need valid ID to get into any government building.  Is that Fair?  In many instances you need valid ID to collect benefits and public assistance.  Is that fair? 

    There are, unfortunately, tens of millions of people on food stamps, unemployment and so on.  By definition these people are impoverished yet they manage to get appropriate ID when it comes to receiving assistance from the Government.

    I am sure there are some people who genuinely need assistance to get ID and that should be provided.

  6. Bornagain

    You dont need a car or to take take lessons to get a learners permit.  Also some states (all?) will provide ID at the DMV for people who have no intention of driving

  7. You shouldn’t need id.  If you’re not the person you say you are, you’re facing a felony.  

    That’s sufficient to address a non-existent problem.  Whereas mandating ID, which costs upwards of $100, is unnecessary. 

  8. Many states, California included, have “non-operator ID cards” issued by the DMV.  Many years ago, I had a co-worker on the night shift who didn’t drive and who would be stopped by the police or sheriff’s deputies while walking home after midnight.  The law officers wouldn’t accept his company ID, which was approved by the US Dept. of Defense, but
    apparently wasn’t enough for the local gendarmes.  Sometimes the cops would get downright nasty (at least according to his version)  The corporate security director advised him to get a DMV issued ID card which he eventually did,  At least, being on the night shift meant that he could visit the DMV office without taking time off from work.  He was originally from Iowa and even after getting the ID, he was disgusted by the fact that he needed “papers” to walk home at night without harassment in Southern Calif.

  9. Jarek

    1)  How do you know it is a non existent problem if no-one is required to provide ID?

    2)  Its not a non existent problem.  Obamacare would not exist today if not for voter fraud.

    3.  If we follow your logic then why is ID required for anything?  Why does the Government ask for valid ID for social security cards for example?  Why not just give them to anyone who asks?  After all they would be facing felony charges if they were not the person they said they were.

  10. @0db468aa2f9c793cea9de53871a0392f:disqus  It may be reasonable to expect a prospective voter to produce a government-issued ID in order to vote, or it may not, but identity verification is not the purpose of voter ID laws.

  11. Sure, ID is required for lots of things in modern society, like driving, using a credit card, taking an airplane, etc. The difference is that you do not have a constitutionally-protected right to do those things at no cost (see Supreme Court, poll tax). If states want to pass voter-ID laws, they should FIRST be required to make such IDs easily obtainable at no cost (including shuttles to far-away offices, birth certificates, and whatever other costs the voter would incur).

    Of course, absentee voters don’t need to show ID either, but you don’t see Republicans complaining about that.

  12. Occam — I have plenty of valid ID, but Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law would disenfranchise me anyway. 

    I have a birth certificate, Social Security card, and passport.  Together these have been sufficient to get me through life, including college, a marriage license, the purchase of a home, 15 years of employment & taxpaying, lots of airline trips, jury duty, etc. etc.

    Pennsylvania’s new Voter ID law requires a photo ID with your current address.  Since I don’t have a driver’s license of state ID — never needed either — I’m be disqualified from voting. 

  13. Richard,

    I am not a constitutional expert but I am not sure where it says your constitutional rights should have no cost?  As far as I know you need valid ID and/or various permits to get a gun….

  14. Ryan,

    Its not clear to me why if you have all that ID you cannot vote?  Are you saying that none of your ID has your current address on it?  Pennsylvania does not specifically say your address has to be current and accepts photo id, such as school ID or public employee ID that clearly does not have home addresses on it.

    In the event you do need ID with your current address and none of the ID you have has it it sounds like you have the ability to get down to the DMV and update your  drivers license?  Not sure how you are going to be disenfranchised?


  15. William, as I noted, the Supreme Court struck down poll taxes. In effect, these requirements are the same thing: they mandate that voters pay a fee (in this case to obtain ID) to vote.

  16. Ryan,

    The same reason you have to go down to the DMV to be allowed to drive. So the authorities have a simple way of verifying that you have the right to do what you are doing.

  17. @a7f1a1e09e9e99dfeeec92cab96cb69b:disqus 
    The 24th Amendment: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”

  18. @a7f1a1e09e9e99dfeeec92cab96cb69b:disqus I just saw your other post or I would’ve combined my responses into one. Driving isn’t a right. Voting is a right. There’s a big different there. I thought that all DMVs have signs to remind you: Driving is not a right, it is a privilege. We’ve tried to make sure voting isn’t just a privilege in this country; there’s a very ugly history there and I really don’t think we want to go back down that road.

  19. Excellent article. I hope and pray that this disgusting ploy will not cost President Obama the election. The good news is that many legal challenges to these policies have prevented them from being fully implemented. But, in a close election, such sneaky business may succeed in handing a close state to Mr. Romney.
    In the mean time, it’s time to get some car pools going to help folks get to these offices!

  20. Nobody has the right to drive.

    You pass a test and are granted a license to operate a motor vehicle on public roads and streets (much like you pass a test and are granted a license to install electrical wiring).

  21. Occam,

    Voter fraud is not a problem in this country.  Full. Stop.  There aren’t thousands of people subjecting themselves to felonies so they can add an extra vote.  The Bush DoJ prioritized Voter fraud (instead of, ya know, financial fraud) and all they could come up with is a couple of stray instances here-and-there. 

    The Voter ID laws being passed will result in hundreds of thousands of people not being able to vote unless they subject themselves to various measures, such as waiting in line at the DMV and/or paying upwards of $100 for ID.   

    You wait in line to vote.  There is no reason to subject people to additional obstacles to voting. Furthermore, there’s no legal basis for it.  Voting is a right.  It is not conditioned on having State ID.  

    John Fund and Hans Von Spakovksy are not voting fraud experts.  They’re selling you a line of bunk.  They get paid, to advance this bogus issue, so that onerous laws are passed which disproportionately burden voters who tend to be democrats.  And frankly, what they’re doing, is a repeat of Jim Crow.  They’re trying to restrict certain people from voting. That’s fucked up and they should be ashamed of themselves.  Republican US Atty David Yglesias was fired for refusing to bring a bogus indictment of a democrat for voting fraud, right before an election.

    To purposefully illegally vote is a serious felony.  That is a sufficient disincentive, especially given that you can only add one extra/illegal vote at a time.  You’re not going to steal an election like that. 

    Re: Why have an ID for anything.  All those other things are not constitutional rights.  Social Security is not a constitutional right.  

    The result would be hundreds of thousands of people being unable to avail themselves of their right to vote.  “just get an id,” well . . . the right to vote isn’t conditioned that way.  If you’re registered, that’s it!  None of this waiting in line at the DMV BS.  

  22. Sounds like people in favor of voter ID requirements don’t fully understand the constitution of the U.S.  Somehow this is not surprising, nor is their ideological alignment.  Sad indeed.

  23. We need to just adopt a national ID in this country rather than haphazard state requirements with wacky rules (for example, Pennsylvania requires an actual Social Security CARD to get a photo ID or driver’s license, not just a number, even though the number can be searched via databases). Everyone lines up and gets their fingerprints taken, and people provide whatever documentation they have, or attestations from people in the community (similar to passport applications) if they don’t. 

  24. FYI a citation, such as sit lie or other quality of life ticket, has your name on it and is an official gov document. In ca that’s a valid ID. You just have to get a ticket from SFPD…

  25. A way around it though is to offer free or low-cost transportation to the local DMV office in areas without good public transportation. In addition, in most states (but not all) that mandate voter ID, non-driver ID is free.

  26. If people have this much trouble getting to a government office once ever FOUR YEAR to get an ID, how exactly are the able to get out and vote EVERY year?

  27. Today, that Selma to Montgomery march couldn’t happen in many locations, unfortunately this includes New York City.  Today, the police will ban that march, because marching along a street or highway is unsafe, and blocks “real” traffic, and will arrest the marchers, “for their own good.” 

    Since 2003, and continuing through the RNC, Critical Mass and Occupy Wall Street, Bloomberg has been either ordering or allowing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to shut down nearly every public march.  The police lay out their red carpets for marchers, those red nets they use to entrap them in closed blocks. 

    Permits are required for 50 people, less people than are carried by one bus.  Christine Quinn rolled over and offered no protest to the NYPD’s parade permit law.  This from a supposed supporter of Gay Rights.  The Stonewall Riot was in large part a reaction to the harassment that Gays received when walking in public.  The LBGT community uses marches and parades regularly for political action, did Quinn not recognize the Parade Permit law allows the police to harass, even arrest, any and every group that bothers them?

    The right to vote, the right to march, the right to get to a place where you can be heard, the right to walk, the right to ride a bicycle on the public highways, the right of non-motorized travelers to cross critical path bridges that have not alternatives (eg: Verrazano-Narrows).  Without the right to travel freely to where you can be heard, to people you want to associate with, what value is the right to free speech.  You are free to talk to the wall?
    There are basic constitutional rights being restricted or even eliminated here.

    Cyclists and pedestrians may be marginal people – we do stick to the margins of the roadways.  But we, and the targets of these voter ID laws should not / cannot be treated as marginal people in the sociological sense.  Ironically, it may take some serious protest marching to restore our rights to march and vote.

    “We are from the police department,
    .   we are here to help you.”

  28. There is no voter ID issue with mail in ballot, so that is a pathetic and childish distraction.

  29. Mig,

    It is sad that we cannot have a civil discussion about issues about which we may have different opinions.  Rather than insulting perhaps you can educate?  Thats how we move to solutions.

    As i understand it the constitution gives us the right to bear arms.  There is an expense associated with exercising this right via licenses, needing valid ID etc etc.  Why is it legal to have an expense associated with one right (guns) and not another (voting)?

    This is a question not a position.

    Also i should emphasize while I am in favor of voter ID it should be affordable (or free to those on assistance for example) and accessible, perhaps the law should be introduced in several years from now so people have time to prepare, and i think fraud associated with mail in ballots is also unacceptable as well.

  30. The idea from the beginning of this sad thread that the Obama presidency or health care reform are proof of voter fraud reveals the real issue for those in favor of voting restrictions: if too many Democrats are allowed to vote, the outcome is by definition illegitimate.

  31. A license to drive a car should not be considered a photo ID for voting purposes.  If identification is to be required to vote, all voters should be required to obtain a state-issued identification card.

  32. One needs a photo ID to do just about everything, so why not for voting?  The excuse that it is inconvenient for the non-driver is ridiculous.  The non-driver manages to get to his job, shop for necessities and can get to the polls to vote, but can’t get to the location to obtain a valid photo ID?  Come on!!

  33. I just went to jury duty yesterday.  Do you know what you were required to show at the juror’s office?  Your summons and a photo ID.  Jury duty is mandatory, so DC considers having a photo ID mandatory.  A few weeks ago I got three letters from DC about voter cards.  Two were for my wife and me.  The third was for the previous homeowner, who no longer lives in DC.  So I know that I could walk into the voting booth and vote as him.  Will I?  No.  But there is literally no barrier stopping me from doing so.  

  34. On voter fraud not changing elections, there is a current news story going around about the Franken election:  243 people charged with voter fraud in that election, which was won by 318 votes.  Many more were ineligible to vote, but were not knowingly voting in defiance of that, and thus not subject to criminal fraud prosecution.  Do you know who it was voting illegally? Felons.  Is removing voting rights from felons good?  Not in my opinion.  But it is the law.  And it should be clear that if there is any group where you don’t just blindly trust them to adhere to the letter of the law, then felons are that group.  In most races is fraud enough to change the outcome?  No.  But in exceptionally narrow races, yes it can be.  

  35. When I was 17 I wanted to work in a real job but in order to do so I had to get an ID and a social security card to prove identity and establish eligibility to work. I remember having to get my birth certificate in order to get the SS card or something. Whatever happened, my biggest problem is that my parents didn’t have my documents. They lost them, they said. Our bad.

    So I take the bus to the proper facilities required to get the documents, and pay the fees out of my own money earned in the underground economy (doing yard work for neighbors).

    I don’t know if voter fraud is a big problem or not, but if this is not a big deal for a stupid teenager to do, it’s not a big deal for anyone to do. If you care so much about getting people identified to vote, start a charity to get it done and bus people to the polls. 

    I take voting very seriously and if you really want to vote, you’ll get it done. The problem is most people don’t care and have to have it made as easy as possible for them. And even then, many still do not vote. Voting is a right but you have to flex your rights. No one is going to do it for you. 

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  37. I assume those people without vehicle access sit in their home or apartment all day. How do they buy food to eat? Go to jury duty? File for benefits? Go to the doctor? Come on! You only need to go and get the ID once. You only vote once or twice a year. You want to vote, get an ID!

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