New York, NY – Nearly 500,000 eligible voters in 10 states with restrictive voter ID laws — including Georgia — live in households without vehicles and reside at least 10 miles from an ID-issuing office open more than two days a week, a new Brennan Center for Justice study found.
Because many of these voters may not have driver’s licenses — and nearly all live in rural areas with dwindling public transportation options — it could be significantly harder for them to get an ID and cast a ballot.
The Brennan Center’s study undercuts the claim by many politicians in restrictive ID states that eligible voters can easily obtain a free ID to vote. A federal court considered this issue last week during a trial over Texas’s voter ID law, and Pennsylvania’s ID law will go before a state judge next Wednesday.
“The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, but new voter ID laws are preventing eligible Americans from participating in our democracy,” said Keesha Gaskins, Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center and co-author of The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification. “Voters find closed offices, long trips without cars and spotty public transit, and prohibitive costs for documents needed to get ID. Unless states with voter identification laws address these barriers now, many eligible citizens could lose their opportunity to vote this November.”
The Center’s research shows 1 in 10 eligible voters lack the necessary government-issued photo ID required by new restrictive voter ID laws, including 25 percent of African-Americans and 18 percent of Americans over 65. The new report provides an extensive look at the scarcity of ID-issuing offices in areas heavily populated by people of color and those in poverty — the very populations that most lack government-issued photo ID. It also shows that overall, in the 10 photo ID states:
· More than 1 million eligible voters fall below the federal poverty line and reside more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.
· Even if someone seeking photo ID manages to travel to an ID-issuing office, there is no guarantee it will be open during regular business hours.
· Many offices with limited hours are located in rural areas with high concentrations of minority voters.
· As a result, in many regions, obtaining an ID can be a costly and time-consuming endeavor for poor, minority, and elderly voters.
GEORGIA: Inaccessible ID offices and costly IDs
Georgia’s law requiring voter photo ID was passed in 2006. When it was upheld last year by the State Supreme Court, it drew a sharp dissent from Justice Robert Benham, the only African-American ever to serve on the court. The state claims that any voter who does not have a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID can obtain a free voter ID card. But as Benham wrote in his dissent, “obtaining the ‘free’ voter identification card is actually more burdensome than registering to vote” because of the cost and time involved in obtaining required documentation.
The Brennan Center’s new report found that access to IDs can be difficult and costly in Georgia for many eligible voters:
· At least 400,000 Georgia citizens of voting age don’t have access to a car. At least 66,000 of them — one in every six — live more than 10 miles from a state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week.
· In all, nearly 1. 3 million eligible voters — 20 percent of the electorate — would have to travel at least 10 miles to get to a state ID office open more than two days a week.
· In 21 contiguous “black belt” counties in Georgia, all state driver’s license offices are closed three or four days per week.
· A state-issued photo ID cannot be obtained without supporting documentation — such as a birth certificate or naturalization certificate — that is costly and time consuming to acquire. An official copy of a birth certificate costs $25 in Georgia, more than twice the notorious poll tax that was outlawed in the civil rights era ($10.64 in current dollars).
· To order documentation online, the state requires voters to use VitalChek, a private express document delivery contractor that imposes an additional charge of that must be paid with a credit card.
The 10 restrictive voter ID states examined in the report are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Five of the laws are currently in effect (Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee). The other five are either awaiting federal approval (Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas), on appeal after being found unconstitutional under state law (Wisconsin), or not scheduled to go into effect until after 2012 (Alabama).