STUDY: Photo ID Laws Place Substantial Burdens On Low-Income And Minority Voters

As of 2012, ten states have put in place laws requiring voters to present some form of government-issued photo ID in order to vote, even though 11 percent of eligible American voters lack such ID. Poor, minority, and elderly voters are especially likely to fall into that group: 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of Americans over 65 don’t have the necessary identification. Now the Brennan Center for Justice has released a new study documenting the unusual structural challenges these populations face in finding a government office which can issue an ID, and then acquiring it:

Transportation to an office: More than 10 million eligible voters in these states live more than 10 miles from the nearest office where they can acquire an ID, including 1.2 million African-American voters and 500,000 Hispanics. 472,523 of these eligible voters do not have access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from an office. On top of that, many of these voters live in rural areas where public transportation is scarce — seven of the ten states with restrictive voter ID laws rank in the bottom half of states when it comes to per capita investment in public transportation.

Limited or odd office hours: Less than half of these offices are open five days a week in Wisconsin, Alabama, and Mississippi. No office holds Saturday hours in Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Texas or Wisconsin. In Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, no office is open more than two days per week in the areas with the highest concentrations of rural African-American voters. The numbers are comparably bleak for the areas in Texas with highest concentrations of Hispanic voters. Some offices also hold odd hours — for example, an office in Wisconsin is only open on the first Wednesday of every other month, and one in Alabama is only open on the third Thursday of each month.

Challenges for urban voters: While the situation is somewhat better in the cities, urban minorities and the urban poor still often face hours on public transit and long wait times to acquire an ID. In Rock Hill, South Carolina, for example, the city’s only ID-issuing office is located seven miles away from the 42,000 eligible African-American voters in the city’s center. In Knoxville, Tennessee, the nearest office is 11 miles from the city center. 61,6000 of Knoxville’s eligible voters live more than five miles from this office — 26 percent of them are African-American and 27.5 percent of them are poor. The southeastern quadrant of Dallas, Texas, which has the city’s highest concentrations of African-American and impoverished voters, does not have a single office.


Cost of “free” IDs: Even when a photo ID itself is ostensibly free of charge, nine of these ten states require some kind of supporting documentation in order to acquire a photo ID. A birth certificate can $15 to $30, a passport $135, a naturalization certificate or certificate of citizenship $345, and a marriage license from $5 to $40. Many of these documents can be difficult to obtain. By comparison, the poll tax outlawed by the Civil Rights Act cost $10.64 in current dollars.

All ten of these states are controlled by Republicans in both the governorship and the legislature, who continue to push these kinds of laws forward, risking the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans. At the same time, these ten states also make up 127 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency in November.