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Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Trouble with Voter ID Laws (Part 1)

The following originally appeared as a guest post from BTSF on Urban Faith on 9/13/2012:

One of the most hotly contested election battles isn't just over the economy or foreign policy; it’s over the fundamental right to vote itself. Recently, we have seen an upsurge in voting-related laws being proposed and passed. As is too often the case, these new laws disproportionately work against people of color, as well as low-income populations.

Christians have a legacy of electing leaders, and we have a responsibility to protect this right for all of our sisters and brothers. The early church decided that it would be good for them to “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn responsibility over to them” (Acts 6:3). Indeed, we are to “select capable men from all the people — men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain — and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21). When we exercise the right to vote, we participate in a history passed down to us from both our political and spiritual forebears.
The total number of in-person
voter fraud cases since 2000. 

But new laws seek to selectively impair voting capacity of a subset of the population by reducing polling hours and by requiring photo IDs. Some estimates suggest that in Pennsylvania, for instance, 9 percent of registered voters do not own a driver’s license and that nationwide these percentages could add up to approximately 22 million otherwise legally eligible voters being disenfranchised at the polls this year. Yet there have only been ten instances of in-person voter fraud in the nation since the year 2000. Ten.

What’s Wrong with Showing an ID?
One may wonder why obtaining a simple driver’s license is such a big deal. Doesn't everybody need one anyway? But as it is less common to drive in urban settings, these populations are less likely to need driver’s licenses. And car ownership itself is a privilege of economic status that many in the middle-class take for granted. In fact, most other interactions that require a driver’s license are also habits of privilege (cashing a check, making purchase returns, renting a car, boarding a flight). Alternative forms of photo ID (like passports, government IDs, and college IDs) are also upper-middle-class documents.

It’s true that some types of non-driver’s-license photo ID are available for free, but they often require documentation like birth certificates and Social Security cards that can cost a significant amount of time and/or money to obtain. A simple task that is supposedly a right of citizenship quickly becomes a multi-day bureaucratic saga that requires energy and time away from work, often when one can’t afford either.

Those that use public transportation are especially burdened when original documentation, photo ID, registration, and actual voting all happen in different locations with restricted hours of operation. And in the meantime, local taxes that fund such public services are voted down by those least likely to need those services.

Homelessness or low-income folk that are apt to move frequently are in an even more difficult situation. It becomes almost impossible to establish residency, provide a mailing address, or show proof of identification. Yet a mailing address is often necessary to receive voter ID cards that individuals have to show on Election Day (regardless of photo ID requirements). All the while, those with the privilege of ease of access to voting can influence policies on housing, welfare, and social services, to the exclusion of those whom the policies actually affect.

Continue to part two "Injecting Race into the Race"


  1. I couldn't agree more. I'm glad you're writing about this.

    Almost 40% of the households in my predominantly black north Mpls neighborhood are carless. I know over 100 teens in my neighborhood but don't know ONE that is even thinking about getting a driver's license. Having access to and driving a car simply an unattainable, and thus, unimaginable goal.

    I'm so saddened by Christians who think that voter ID laws are a good idea and that don't disproportionately disadvantage certain populations. If we got to know more people who are different than us, we'd begin to see the world through their lenses.

  2. Thanks so much, Christena! Such divides in perception of day-to-day realities. You are right on...we need to gain the insights that can only come though abiding relationship.

  3. Thanks for explaining! More people need to read this.


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