A committee in the Colorado House of Representatives heard two election bills that would shorten the list of ID’s that people can use to register to vote. In particular, the sponsors wanted to see a photo ID standard if you register during the early voting period or on Election Day.
This comment by one of the bill sponsors shows his unfamiliarity with the struggles of, in particular, low-income Coloradans when it comes to getting a state-issued photo ID. And he’s not alone. There are a lot of people who believe that it’s easy to get one. The lawmaker is referencing the requirement to show photo ID when buying Sudafed at the drugstore. “People who don’t have a photo ID must be really healthy.”
But testimony from one woman made it clear that getting an ID is difficult for thousands of low-income Coloradans. Linda Olson works for Colorado Legal Services as part of the Colorado Collaborative ID Project. They, along with Metro CareRing, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Denver Department of Human Services work together to “assist low-income, disabled, homeless and elderly citizens seeking documentation of their identity and citizenship in order to obtain health care, public benefits, housing, transportation, employment and secure other essential human rights.” Linda testified that thousands of people come to them for help with problems ranging from an inability to pay for an ID, the inability to pay for the documents they need to get before they can receive a photo ID, to complex legal challenges. There was a man who didn’t realize his birth certificate said “Baby Boy” instead of the name he’d been using, so he needed help with a legal name change in order to get an ID. Victims of Hurricane Katrina had to have their entire identities recreated as a result of their loss. They also see victims of domestic violence who come for help after leaving everything behind. And my favorite, a World War II veteran who lied about his age to be allowed to serve couldn’t get an ID because his age did not match on the documents he needed to get a photo ID.
Suppressing the vote for low-income Coloradans is the last thing we should be doing. We’re already seeing that almost half the number of people who are eligible to vote but don’t are low-income. This segment of our society, one might argue, needs the opportunity to vote the most.
The committee also considered an amendment that would provide a free ID to anyone who needed one. Again, the testimony showed that even when the ID itself is free, there can be significant costs and barriers in getting the underlying documents. Jason Salzman wrote a great piece on this at Colorado Pols.
Several people who support the concept testified that we need a photo ID to do so many things in life, and therefore what was the big deal to require one for voting? Fair Elections Legal Network debunked this myth in a blog post from 2012.
The problem with requiring photo ID to register to vote is that it would disenfranchise eligible citizens from participating. A recent analysis by Project Vote shows that people of color, young people and those with the lowest incomes lack photo ID at higher rates than the rest of us.
The good news is that the House State Affairs committee rejected both bills yesterday. But the fight about photo ID is certainly not over.