Ageism in Voter-ID Laws & How to Report It
A total of 33 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls this year. (West Virginia’s new law goes into effect in 2018). Of those,17 states will have restrictive voter-identification laws on the books for the first time in a presidential election, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.
Mostly, the impact on lower-income minorities and immigrants has been focused on new requirements that voters provide photo ID cards at the polls. But one group unexpectedly affected has been seniors–particularly black, Latino and other ethnic elders, who may have trouble obtaining required documents. Following is an overview of the elder impact in addition to good sources of information.
The Voter Disadvantage–Proving You Were Born
“Voter ID laws disadvantaging older persons place a burden on the voting rights of those most likely to participate in the electoral process,” said Daniel Kohrman, a senior attorney with the AARP Foundation Litigation office in Washington, D.C. That’s because older citizens vote at greater percentages than younger people.
“With voter IDs, you can imagine that especially for a lot of African American elders, who were born in segregated hospitals, their records may not exist any longer. So you will see, definitely, disproportionate impact for them,” stated Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a racial-justice organization based in Washington.
Dianis added, “Also, for women elders who have to provide a marriage certificate that may be very old, or not exist any longer, to show the change in their name from their birth certificate, that may become a barrier.”
Other practical barriers to voting have emerged, such as Arizona’s decision to reduce polling sites in this year’s primary election from 200 to only 60, causing long lines and forcing many to travel long distances.
According to the Brennan Center, difficulties in states like Arizona and North Carolina primaries could provide “an early glimpse of problems in November — as voters face the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, which was designed to prevent discrimination in voting.”
Both Positive and Negative Changes
Since the U.S. Supreme Court nullified a key provision of the act in 2013, though, many states have actually strengthened their voter registration laws, such as initiating automatic voter registration for drivers and others interacting with government agencies.
The Brennan Center stresses that the trend this election year is toward greater access, including almost 425 bills pending in 41 states and the District of Columbia. (Some states have proposals going in both directions.)
Meanwhile, though, at least 77 new bills — besides those passed in the 17 states — are materials in languages spoken by “more than 10,000 or over 5 percent of the total voting age citizens … who are members of a single minority language group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well.”
Older voters need to be aware of other kinds of obstacles to exercising their right to vote. Despite most states having rules about who can assist you and under what circumstances, she said, “those are not always fairly applied.”
People can bring a family member or request assistance in filling out a ballot if reading it is a challenge, “or any aspect of the voting process is going to be impacted by health or other issues associated with aging.”
Voters of any age encountering trouble on election day can get legal advice for their state by calling 866-OURVOTE (866-687-8683). This hotline connects voters with a volunteer network of attorneys able to help, such as when a voter has been turned away from the polls. Often, she said, Latino citizens can be put on the line with a Spanish-speaking attorney.
People can also call the hotline for basic information, she said, such as on where to find their polling place, or what material they will need to be able to vote?
Other services are also available, she said, such as the nonpartisan website,www.nonprofitvote.org. It provides every state’s rules, including how to register to vote, whether there’s an ID requirement, and what’s the rule for people with felony convictions.
Furthermore, she said, people can find essential information on the websites of their state board of elections or secretary of state’s office.
GOOD SOURCES helpful for reporting on voting issues — for better or for worse — in your areas.
National Conference of State Legislatures, website on “Voter Identification Requirements/Voter ID Laws” includes a searchable map of the United States, and sections with lots of basic factual information.
Nonprofitvote.org is one of several websites that provides the rules for every state, including how to register to vote, whether there’s an ID requirement, and what’s the rule for people with felony convictions, also an important issue in aging, since so many being released from prisons now are older.
“Voter ID Laws in the United States,Wikipedia.