Voter ID law imposes obstacles

Illustration by Annette Allen.

Victoria Zawitkowski
Contributing Columnist

This year at the polls, you can expect to be asked for ID, because Virginia’s new voter law is in effect. This legislation was enacted to prevent voter fraud. However, there is little evidence that proves voter fraud is an actual problem — voter impersonation is almost nonexistent. The new requirement may prevent the elderly, lower-income or minority populations from voter eligibility.

Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, certain states were not allowed to make changes to voting laws without approval from the federal government. Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act provides the coverage formula which explains which states and counties are subjected to preclearance by the federal government.  In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 and shortly after Texas enacted a voter ID law, which is currently under trial. 12 states require photo IDs from voters and another 13 states are seeking similar legislation.

Virginia’s own voter ID law went into effect July 1, 2014. The Virginia State Board of Elections, which is a Republican-dominated government body, defined the terms of a valid photo ID for Virginia voters. Acceptable forms of photo ID include: a Virginia driver’s license or other photo ID issued by Virginia, U.S. passport, any photo ID issued by the U.S. government, a student photo ID that was issued by a Virginia university or an employee photo ID. Voters may use an expired ID as long as it expired within 12 months of the election and the photo still resembles the voter. Virginia also offers free voter ID cards from the voter’s county registrar.

A U.S. passport costs $110. A valid photo ID in Virginia costs $10. That doesn’t include the cost of taking time off work or the cost of transportation to the Department of Motor Vehicles for a license or the U.S. Postal Service for a passport. Even going to the county registrar’s office for a free ID would be a challenge. Most wealthier citizens already have a vehicle and a driver’s license which would make them eligible to vote. Those who can afford to pay the fees for a passport and travel are also likely to be in a higher tax bracket. This new law would be an issue for those of lower-income who do not already have a driver’s license or a vehicle. 

The cost is just one hurdle. When applying, for one, a citizen must have two documents proving their identity, a document proving legal residence in the U.S. and a document proving permanent residency in Virginia. These can be difficult for some individuals to obtain — especially if  they’re homeless. Many people have to go through a lot of bureaucratic red tape to obtain an original birth certificate or Social Security card. Transgendered Virginians especially have a difficult time proving their identity when their photo ID does not match their outward appearance. Obtaining a free photo ID still requires two original documents for proof of identity. 

Should a voter arrive at the polls without a valid form of ID, they may cast a provisional ballot. The voter will then have until noon on the Friday after the election to submit a copy of their valid photo ID to their local electoral board.

Supporters of these ID requirements claim it is a way to combat voter fraud. Voter fraud is so rare that it can almost be deemed a non-issue.

News21 compiled a database of U.S. voter fraud. According to the database, there have been 35 cases of alleged voter fraud in Virginia since 2000. The data showed that in-person voter fraud is rare. There are 207 cases of other types of voter fraud for every one case of in-person voter fraud. Most cases of fraud occur during the registration process or from absentee ballots. A valid photo ID would not prevent fraud in those cases.

There has been no evidence of voter fraud impacting the results of any elections in the U.S. Photo ID requirements may diminish the already infinitesimal rates of in-person voter fraud, but have no effect on any other types of election fraud.

This new requirement places another barrier between citizens and their right to vote. Getting to the polls on election day is of higher concern for certain minority and low-income groups. With the added task of obtaining an 

ID before election day, many citizens who are less mobile, rely on public transportation or simply cannot take time off work will struggle to get to their registrar’s office for their free voter ID. 

The law was introduced by Republican Senator Mark Obenshain and backed by the Republican majority in both the house and senate. Many citizens who find this more challenging are more likely to vote Democrat — and less likely to make it to the polls.

Black voters are historically tied to the Democratic party. They are proponents of an involved government body to fight discrimination and provide services to the community. Hispanic voters usually vote Democrat, especially for their opinion on immigration laws. The majority of LGBTQ voters also lean toward the Democratic party. These populations of U.S. citizens also have the most difficult time obtaining the valid photo ID required to vote in this year’s election. Clearly there is a correlation between stifling the Democrat vote and the passage of this Republican-backed law. 

U.S. law should protect citizens’ rights and the democratic system. The new voter ID law in Virginia does not prevent voter fraud, as supporters claim, but does make it harder for Virginia’s population of eligible voters to cast their ballots.

If you do not have a valid photo ID for election day, visit www.GotIDVirginia.org or call the election protection hotline at 1-866-687-8683 (OUR-VOTE).

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