So You Think You Can Vote?

Your Take: Voter-ID laws could make things tough at the polls. Here's how to ensure that you're covered.

Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

(Special to The Root) — A spate of photo-ID laws passed by right-wing legislatures in the past few years is threatening the ability of even registered voters to cast their ballots. Many people think, “What’s the big deal? Everybody has ID.” Well, it’s not that simple.  

New laws that have strict requirements for state-issued photo ID disproportionately affect blacks, Latinos, the elderly, the young and the disabled — demographics that turned out in record numbers in 2008 and overwhelmingly voted Democratic. For many people, the barriers are almost insurmountable. Elderly African Americans born during the era of segregation, for example, were often born at home and not issued the birth certificates now required in most states to get a state-issued photo ID. In Texas 600,000 registered voters lack the required state-issued photo ID to vote. In the United States as a whole, 21 million Americans don’t have state-issued photo ID.

The voter-ID proposals in 38 states are all patterned on a template developed by the right-wing group ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council), which is funded by conservative activists and oil billionaires David and Charles Koch, who have backed an agenda of resegregating schools, eliminating environmental safeguards and other right-wing policies.

Proponents say that voter photo ID is necessary to prevent fraud, but studies suggest that voter fraud is not a problem (pdf) at all. The Bush administration, despite a five-year investigation, could find no instances (pdf) of voter impersonation fraud.

Hundreds of thousands of brave Americans marched and died for the right to vote, and that fight continues today. We have defeated photo-ID laws in states like North Carolina, New Hampshire, Missouri and Minnesota, where the governors were compelled to veto the laws but where right-wing proponents are relentlessly trying to pass them again. In Ohio progressive groups banded together to place a repeal of the voter-suppression laws on the ballot. Advancement Project has filed lawsuits against these laws in several states and won some victories stalling the laws’ implementation.

But if you live in a state where the new state photo-ID restrictions are in effect, here’s what you need to know to safeguard your right to vote.

1. Federal law requires first-time voters to present one of many forms of ID before voting. Although certain forms of ID — such as a utility bill, bank statement or government check — are sufficient to prove your identity under federal law, they are considered invalid according to state photo-ID laws.