Texan Eric Kennie has voted in every single general election since his 18th birthday — his parents raised him to understand the importance of the right to vote for African Americans like himself. Yet Kennie will not be voting in next week’s election. He can’t, thanks to Texas’s new voter ID law.
The details of the ordeal Kennie faced in order to exercise his right to vote is chronicled in a must-read piece by the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington. Because Kennie doesn’t drive, he doesn’t have a driver’s license. That not only means that he lacks one of the few forms of ID Texas will accept at the polls, it also means that he has no easy way to bring himself to the government office that issues IDs to people in his position. Instead, he spent four hours per round trip, transferring to three different buses along the way. When he arrived, he had to wait up to three hours before he would be seen by someone who could issue him an ID.
Except that he was not issued an ID. On one of his trips, Keenie was told that he needed a copy of his birth certificate in order to obtain the ID. To get that certificate, he had to take another multi-bus trip to an entirely different government office. He also had to pay a $23 dollar fee.
To put that fee into perspective, Keenie earns his living by “foraging in people’s garbage to collect cans, bottles and metal for recycling,” according to Pilkington. The $23 fee is more than he earns in a typical day. It should also be noted that making an otherwise eligible voter’s right to vote contingent upon their ability to pay a fee is unconstitutional. The 24th Amendment provides that “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.”
Yet, even though Keenie ultimately decided to give up more than a full day’s pay in order to exercise his most fundamental right as a citizen, he soon learned that even that was not enough. The birth certificate listed his name as “Eric Caruthers” — Caruthers is his mother’s maiden name — and that meant he still couldn’t get an ID because the name on the birth certificate did not match the name he registered to vote under.
Voter ID’s defenders often justify these laws by claiming that they are necessary to thwart voter fraud. Yet, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently explained, “there were only two in-person voter fraud cases prosecuted to conviction in Texas” between 2002 and 2011. So in-person voter fraud, the only kind deterred by voter ID, is virtually non-existent.
Eric Keenie, by contrast, is very real.