With the number of states requiring photo identification in order to vote multiplying rapidly — just two states required it in 2008; now, seven states have passed voter ID bills — some members of Congress are beginning to explore how they can help protect voting rights, particularly for minorities and poorer voters, from reactionary state legislatures.
This month, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced H.R. 4126, or the Voter ID Accessibility Act of 2012. If enacted, it would at least mitigate the loss of voting rights that will occur in November when millions of Americans who lack photo identification realize they will no longer be permitted to vote. Specifically, the bill would require states with voter ID laws to provide IDs free of charge:
To amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require each voter registration agency in a State which requires an individual to present a government-issued photo identification as a condition of voting in an election for Federal office to provide such an identification without charge upon request to any such individual who does not otherwise possess one, and for other purposes.
Cohen’s home state of Tennessee is one of the states that passed strict new voter ID bills in 2011. As a result, thousands who are unable to obtain photo IDs have been or will be disenfranchised, such as 96-year-old Tennessee resident Dorothy Cooper. She said the experience was worse than anything she’d encountered in the Jim Crow era.
Unfortunately, H.R. 4126 would not eliminate the multitude of fees that a citizen must incur prior to obtaining an ID. For instance, most states require certain forms of primary identification in order to receive an ID, such as a birth certificate. This can run as high as $200. For those living in rural areas, it can be difficult and costly to get to the identification agency, especially since they typically lack a driver’s license in the first place. In addition, agencies are generally only open during normal business hours, making the prospect of getting an ID exceedingly difficult for individuals who work during the day.
Still, Cohen’s bill would be a good first step to enforcing the Constitution’s prohibition on poll taxes.