Don’t Be Clueless
Note: a voter ID Bill passed in the Pennsylvania state legislature in 2012 and was overturned by the court in 2014. I am using PA as an example because that’s the state I’m familiar with.
I’ve heard a lot of people say they have no problem with requiring IDs for voting. They say everybody has a driver’s license, or that you need an ID even to cash a check.
These are clueless people with middle class privilege.
Getting a state-approved voting ID requires documentation, time, money, transportation, and a fair amount of knowledge of and ability to navigate government systems.
You may think it’s just a minor annoyance.
But it’s a true barrier to voting that disproportionately affects the elderly, disabled people, minorities, and the poor — many who have traditionally voted Democratic.
The Republican speaker of the Pennsylvania State House made this crystal clear in 2012 when he was listing off the Republican-controlled legislature’s accomplishments. He said the new voter ID law was going to allow Governor Romney to win the state.
For those who believe it’s no big deal to obtain the necessary ID to vote, here are a few scenarios describing the problem in Erie and Crawford Counties, PA, the area where I live. I’m sure other counties in other states will have similar problems.
The Erie County PennDOT driver-licensing/ID-issuing location is well south of the city of Erie. It is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30am to 4:15pm.
The Crawford County PennDOT center in Meadville, PA is only open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, 8:30 to 4:15.
Scenario 1: You don’t own a vehicle and must take public transportation.
Perhaps you work first shift on weekdays from 8:00 till 4:30 with half an hour for lunch. Regardless of your work location, you won’t have time to wait at the DMV for an ID at lunchtime.
Or maybe you work from 7:00 till 3:00. You get out of work and have to wait for a bus, probably have to wait to transfer buses because of the location of the PennDOT center, and by the time you get there, it is closed.
No voting for you.
Scenario 2: So what? Go on Saturday.
Maybe you already depend on your neighbor to take you grocery shopping on Saturdays. You are at the neighbor’s mercy as to what time you will go. How can you plan to get to the PennDOT center? If you don’t go grocery shopping with your neighbor, you won’t get groceries for a two-week period.
No biggie, you may say, take the bus to go grocery shopping. Do you think you could realistically catch a bus to the store, then wait for another bus, carry a week’s worth of groceries on the bus, get home, put away the groceries, wait for another bus, transfer buses, and get to the ID center on time?
What if you’re a single parent in this scenario? Are you even going to have the energy to do all that and still go to the ID center?
Nope. And you can’t afford to take a taxi, so you’re thinking you will just have to skip the trip to the PennDOT center.
You won’t get to vote.
Scenario 3: You have a car.
You work until 3:00, but you’re a single parent who has to pick up your kid from day-care after work. Again, by the time you get to the PennDOT center they are closing.
Or perhaps you are on a very tight budget and cannot afford to use up your gas money to go to the driver center.
I guess you won’t get to vote. Tough shit, loser.
Scenario 4: You are 73 years old.
Your macular degeneration no longer allows you to drive, but you’re still sharp and politically informed. You’ve voted in every election since you were 21, but your drivers license expired four years ago. You didn’t figure you’d ever need it again.
You and your entire family live in the rural town of Mill Village, PA. Your daughter works full time in Erie and takes you grocery shopping in Waterford, PA on Saturdays. You work the grocery trips around her kids' sports practices and games.
Your son also works full time; he takes you to church and dinner on Sunday.
You already feel as if you are a burden to them. Will you ask one of them to also take you 40 minutes each way to Erie or Meadville on a Saturday so you can get a photo ID? No, you won’t.
There's another legal voter deterred from voting.
Scenario 5: How do you find out where to go to get the necessary ID?
Easy peasy, you say, just go to the PennDOT web site.
Easy for you to say and do, right? Well, I have worked with adults in Erie who are perfectly intelligent but cannot read very well. If you tell them they can just go online to figure this out, they may be too proud to admit that they aren’t capable of doing this.
If you do manage to get online, the first task is to locate the correct web site. There are some hinky sites that are not related to the DOT, but look as if they are, like “www.dmv.org”. It’s tricky.
Scenario 6: You finally find the right web site. What do you need to get the ID?
There’s a section of the PennDOT site that pertains to the voter ID law and explains how to get an ID. Take a look:
There’s enough text on these pages to put off a proficient reader let alone someone who has dyslexia or poor vision, or who can’t concentrate on it long enough to get through it, or for whom English is a second language. Then there’s List A and List B.
Maybe you see that you need a birth certificate with a raised seal. You find out that means you will have to get to the Vital Records office west of the city and pay $10 for a birth certificate.
That office is open Monday through Friday, 8am to 4pm. How can you get there during the time they’re open?
Maybe in all that text you missed the part that says you can sign an oath and fill out two forms to get your birth certified in about ten days, after which you have to return to the Center. But even with that option, now you’re required to make TWO trips to the Center.
Maybe you realize you just can’t get the ID.
You just won’t be able to vote. Too bad, sucker.
Is a voter ID requirement a literacy test?
Maybe this maze of required paperwork serves as a literacy test for voting. This is illegal since Congress updated the 1964 Voting Rights Act in 1970 by banning literacy tests for federal elections throughout the country.
Does a voter ID requirement suppress votes?
Yes, it does. The obstacles to getting the ID keep people from the polls, amount to voter suppression.
Those who are solidly middle class, with paid time off or flexible work schedules, don’t think of these things. But these scenarios illustrate real obstacles.
Should people have to take a day off from work just to be able to get an ID to vote?
What if that day has to be taken off without pay?
If they can’t afford to lose pay, they can’t get the ID and they won’t be able to vote. And that’s exactly what Republicans are counting on; they are exactly the poor people Republicans don’t want to vote.
The ACLU says that 21 million Americans do not have the kind of IDs needed for many proposed voter ID laws.
In Pennsylvania more than 758,000 people, about 10% of the population, did not have the main form of required ID in 2012. The ID law would have had an even bigger impact in Philadelphia—a Democratic stronghold—where the city’s top election official said 18% of registered voters don’t have a qualifying ID.
So don’t be fooled by Republican officials claims that voter IDs are necessary because of some mythical voter fraud.
They aren’t necessary. Unless, of course, you’re trying to suppress Democratic votes. Then voter IDs are very useful.