As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day on August 26, marking the day women received the right to vote in 1920, we need to be aware of a move now affront to disenfranchise women. Voter ID laws enacted now in over half the states, requiring voters to present some form of identification as a requirement to vote will place unreasonable burdens on many women who may well be unaware of the difficulty they could face when casting their vote in the 2012 election.
Fourteen states require a government issued photo ID when voting in person. At the time of registering to vote, other states like Kansas and Alabama further demand proof of citizenship beyond the federal legal requirement that citizens swear they are citizens. During the 2011 legislative session, five states—Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina—joined Georgia and Indiana by enacting the strictest form of photo ID requirement for voters, and most of these newest changes will first come into effect for the 2012 elections.
Proponents of the laws argue that photo ID’s are a reasonable way to protect our elections and make them fair. But far from harmless, the laws are complex and place unnecessary hardship on women—those who are newly married or recently divorced as well as senior citizens and low-income women.
Requiring voters to register with proof of citizenship is more problematic for women than for men. A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU law school shows that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name. Women who have recently married or divorced and have changed their names—and whose passport, naturalization papers or birth certificate are in their former names—will then be required to obtain a certified court document showing the divorce decree or marriage certificate. These documents vary in cost from state to state but can cost upwards of $25 plus any time off work to obtain them. The certified court documents may not even be in the state where you now reside, further delaying and complicating matters.
For those women who are already registered to vote, the same problem will hold true. The photo ID must be in the same name that is registered with the Election Board. Hence, any recent changes in name from divorce or marriage will require certified proof of the name change along with the new photo ID. Of course, most men need not endure such onerous paper trail requirements. But U.S. women change their names in 90 percent of marriages. Karen Celestino-Horseman, an attorney for the League of Women Voters, says “women in particular are going to be impacted,” by requirements that they produce documents authenticating every name change in cases of marriage and divorce.
Some of the laws will allow you to provisionally vote if you arrive on Election Day without the proper ID, and then return within several days with a current photo ID. There is no guarantee that a provisional ballot will count A case in point is Valeria Williams, in her 60s, who was told in 2006 that her telephone bill, letter from the Social Security Administration addressed to her and an expired driver’s license were not sufficient. She cast a provisional ballot that was not counted.
The argument by the supporters of these voter ID laws that you can’t board a plane or drive a car without a photo ID fails to recognize that not everyone flies or drives. And it further fails to recognize the extra burdens placed on women, particularly recently divorced, newly married women, seniors and low income women.
Equal access to the polls is paramount for all. Women and particularly women of color who fought so hard for suffrage and became the last to get that right may now be the first to lose it.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political/legal commentator who is seen on national and local media including CNN, the Michael Eric Dyson Show, XM Sirius radio, NBC and CBS -Washington, DC affiliates, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post and Politic 365.