As political watchers fix their eyes on the Republican primary in Florida this week, there's a longer-term issue that will affect voters in several states come November: photo-ID laws. While arguments about the disparate impact of these new laws are usually couched in lawsuits and research studies, some activists are pushing beyond identifying the problem to help voters get the information they need.
One example is the Cost of Freedom Project, a crowd-sourced initiative that is developing a Web app to provide people with information on how to get a voter ID. The project has focused its efforts on the five states where photo-ID laws — which require government-issued photo ID to be presented at the polls in order to vote — will go into effect this November. Those states are Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin.
By typing in an address, users will get a list of the documents needed for a state ID, the offices where they can obtain said documents (as well as their hours of operation and public transportation directions) and the costs. Voters will also be able to get the information through text messaging.
"I got frustrated with only hearing about lawsuits and studies around the problem of voter-ID laws," Faye Anderson, project manager for the Cost of Freedom team, told The Root. "Yes, it's important to challenge voter-ID requirements. But the clock is ticking, and a lawsuit and yet another study will not help one voter who needs a photo ID to get one."
Anderson presented the idea last December at Random Hacks of Kindness Philadelphia, a competition held at Drexel University to develop technological solutions for real-world problems. From there a team of Web developers, graphic designers and researchers began forming. Anderson will demo the app on Feb. 14 during a panel at the Social Media Week conference in Washington, D.C., with the hopes of officially launching the site on March 7.
The Cost of Freedom tool was designed to be concise, offering just the information voters need. "We don't want to overwhelm them with information. When you start talking about 21st-century poll taxes, people's eyes glaze over," said Anderson.
She added, however, that such an argument is nonetheless valid. In most states with voter-ID laws, citizens must present a birth certificate to get their ID. "That can cost as high as $25. If you get it online, tack on another $12," said Anderson. "During a recession, having to provide a series of underlying documents is an unreasonable burden. And as a practical matter: While you need a birth certificate to get photo ID, in order to get a birth certificate, you need photo ID."
But despite the many aspects of photo-ID laws that may block voters from accessing the ballot, the Cost of Freedom is focused simply on helping people get what they need in time. "We want to give voters information as quickly as possible," said Anderson, "To minimize the number of voters who say 'Oh, forget about it.' "
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.