Recently, the Virginia legislature passed bill S.B. 719, significantly changing voter identification requirements.
We hear all of the same arguments every time state legislatures attempt to change voting laws. Democrats argue new legislation restricts voting rights of the elderly (65+) and minorities, while Republicans argue this is only to curb voter fraud.
Virginia’s bill removes several items as acceptable forms of voter identification, including “a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, or paycheck that shows the name and address of the voter and a voter’s social security card.”
This leaves any government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, an employer-issued photo ID, concealed handgun permit, or student ID issued by an accredited university with a photograph or the student’s name and address.
It is hard to imagine how this new legislation will impact voting rights. Having an ID today seems almost as customary as having a cell phone. However, this requirement does, in fact, disenfranchise the elderly, minorities and the poor.
For example, at a certain age, some elderly people will stop driving, and their driver’s licenses will expire. They have most likely already retired, and the likelihood of them having a concealed a handgun permit is low. This puts an increasing burden on something that is considered an easy, accessible right to all Americans.
According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Health and Service’s Administration study on aging, the elderly represented 12.9 percent of the population in 2009 — a 12.5 percent increase from 1999.
This number is predicted to continue increasing through 2050, especially with medical advances and improved living conditions. For this reason, it is especially important we pay attention to how stricter voting laws affect the elderly’s ability to vote.
The poor and minorities face similar challenges.
The high rate of unemployment leaves many people without the possibility of an employer ID, and many rely on public transportation to get around. For those in rural communities, getting any government-issued ID or voter registration card from an office several miles away can be too taxing a task and may discourage voting.
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon determine, as it does with all changes in state voter laws, whether the new voter legislation does disenfranchise elderly, minorities and the poor.
I believe it does. The question state legislatures should ask themselves is what hurts elections results more: voter fraud or losing a significant portion of voters.
I never hear exact numbers for percentages of voter fraud in our elections, so I choose what is of better priority in this context, and that is — as it should be with any fundamental right — to secure rights.
Eleven percent of the population doesn’t even own a government-issued photo ID, according to the 2012 Brennan Center for Justice Report on Voting Law Changes. You tell me which situation is more problematic.