President Obama’s Comments on Voter ID Don’t Line Up With The Facts

Posted by Jay Riestenberg and Allegra Chapman on October 22, 2014

Yesterday on Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show, President Barack Obama had this to say about voter ID laws:

"Most of these laws are not preventing the overwhelming majority of folks who don't vote from voting…Most people do have an ID. Most people do have a driver's license. Most people can get to the polls. It may not be as convenient, it may be a little more difficult."

While the President’s comments make it sound as if voter ID is not that burdensome, studies have shown that voter ID laws remain a major obstacle to the ballot box for a hundreds of thousands of Americans. While it is true that most voters have photo identification and a way to get to the polls, our election system must be made accessible to all eligible voters, particularly those who have for too long been left on the political sideline..

Here are the facts:

  • Voter ID could disenfranchise as many as 11% of eligible voters in the United States; in Texas alone, around 600,000 could be impacted.
  • Many individuals throughout the states simply do not have the funds to pay for necessary transportation and documentation, like birth certificates, needed to obtain photo ID; even Judge Richard A. Posner, who authored an appeals court opinion in 2007 allowing photo ID in Indiana, later upheld by the Supreme Court, acknowledges this. Voter IDs cost money, and the poor often can’t get them. Guess who that leaves out at the polls?
  • In-person identification voter fraud is largely a myth, and voter ID requirements don't address real voter fraud. Only a handful of fraud cases that ID requirements might have prevented have been reported since 2000, as determined by experts and the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ non-partisan watchdog agency. Many of the new voter ID laws require a specific form of ID that many people lack; these laws essentially are solutions in search of a problem.
  • People of color, the elderly, and young people are the most common victims of voter ID laws, given their lack of resources, and are also the most common communities subjected to voter disenfranchisement. Judge Posner now acknowledges these laws for what they are: partisan ploys aimed at keeping certain communities away on Election Day.

Bottom line: A minority of people don’t have access to photo IDs, and this same minority continues to be disenfranchised from elections. Democracy demands better. It demands inclusion of all voices – not just most of them.

While the Obama administration has led the way in many states with legal challenges to voter ID laws, President Obama’s remarks misrepresent the real problem of voter disenfranchisement. Just last week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called Texas’s

voter ID law “discriminatory” and “an unconstitutional poll tax.” Judges in Wisconsin, Texas, and other states agree.

President Obama may come to regret these latest words, perhaps made to energize the electorate rather than downplay voter ID’s role in disenfranchising voters. After all, in the same radio interview, he called on Americans to vote in the upcoming election, saying each vote cast makes a “huge difference.” He’s right about that. Indeed, it’s vital that Americans everywhere push back against these onerous restrictions – plus the others cutting back on strong electoral reforms – and urge their legislators to restore state laws that increase, rather than depress, turnout. It’s important, too, that we restore all provisions of the Voting Rights Act, under which Texas’ photo ID requirement and other voting restrictions never would have been implemented.

Until there are better laws in place, every eligible American who has what’s needed to vote in their state should renew their commitment to vote. We must show the legislators trying to clamp down on voting that those tactics won’t work. And for those who, yet again, will be forced to sit on the sidelines, President Obama’s message from Election Night 2012 remains compelling: “We’ve got to fix that!”

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Voting Rights

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