The High Cost of a Free Voter ID
On Friday, the Justice Department rejected South Carolina's photo ID law on the grounds it has a disparate impact on minority voters. Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Thomas Perez wrote in a letter to South Carolina Deputy Attorney General Alan Wilson:
…(T)he state's data demonstrate that non-white voters are both significantly burdened by [the photo ID requirement] in absolute terms, and also disproportionately unlikely to possess the most common types of photo identification among the forms of identification that would be necessary for in-person voting under the proposed law.
The ruling is round one in what will likely be a protracted battle. Indeed, Gov. Nikki Haley vowed to fight on:
It is outrageous, and we plan to look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.
Civil rights groups, including the ACLU, NAACP and the Advancement Project, likewise are looking at every possible option. They are challenging restrictive photo ID laws at the Justice Department and in the courts. But with the 2012 election less than 11 months away, voters need assistance right now.
In his speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Attorney General Eric Holder urged citizens to “speak out. Raise awareness about what's at stake.”
As a longtime voting rights advocate, I was heartened by Holder's call to action. At the recent Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon at Drexel University, I shared the problem facing millions of voters who, for the first time, must show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. My team discussed how to help voters in the eight seven states with voter ID requirements.
In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U. S. Supreme Court held that states with restrictive photo ID requirements must provide free voter IDs. While the voter ID is free, the documents a citizen must produce to establish his or her identity are not free. Those documents include a certified copy of their birth certificate or a passport. Of course, if a voter has a passport, there would no need for a voter ID.
The cost of obtaining a birth certificate ranges from $5.00 in some counties in Indiana to $25.00 in Georgia. In addition to the state fee, an applicant will have to pay for postage and photocopying (if requested by mail), a processing fee (if ordered online) or transportation (if requested in person).
My team developed a prototype for the Cost of Freedom App, a location-based web app that will provide voters with information on how to apply for a voter ID. If voters do not have the documents to establish their identity, they can type in their address to find out how to obtain, for instance, a certified copy of their birth certificate and the cost. If they want to apply in person, they will be given the location, office hours and directions using public transportation.
The Cost of Freedom App will be crowd-sourced. The voter education tool is being built by citizen developers and designers, and ordinary Americans who are concerned about the impact of photo ID requirements on voter participation.
To get involved in this citizen-led initiative to protect the right to vote, join us at Facebook.com/CostofFreedom.
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