Election 2012
9:00 am
Wed February 1, 2012

Why Millions of Americans Have No Government ID

Originally published on Wed February 1, 2012 8:42 am

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we'd like to focus on another political battle that could influence the general elections in November. Voter ID laws. Thirty-one states have either introduced or tightened voter requirements in recent months. Fifteen of those states have made it mandatory to show government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot. So what's the big deal, you say?

Well, these days, we need photo IDs to do just about everything, from cashing a check to buying cough medicine to entering a government building. But it's not that simple. Supporters, mostly conservative Republicans, say voter ID laws prevent election fraud, but opponents, mainly Democrats and progressive groups, say the laws are really designed to suppress voter turnout, especially among certain groups.

And it turns out that more than three million Americans actually don't own a government-issued picture ID. That's according to a recent study by New York University's Brennan Center for Justice.

We wanted to know more about this. Why don't people have voter IDs or have government-issued IDs? And who are they? So we've called upon NPR digital correspondent Corey Dade, who's been looking into this.

Corey, welcome back. Thanks for joining us.

COREY DADE, BYLINE: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: So let me just summarize the politics of this right now, just so that we can kind of get to some of the stories that you found out.

DADE: Sure.

MARTIN: We've been reporting on this, so 31 states in all require voters to show some form of ID in order to vote, but since Mr. Obama was elected, more than eight states have enacted voter ID laws and this is where the opponents of the law are crying foul. They say that the passage of these laws just happens to be in key battle ground states that Obama won in 2008, like Florida, Indiana and Ohio, Colorado and Virginia.

So, that being said, we're interested in who doesn't have a voter ID these days or who doesn't have a government-issued ID. What'd you find out?

DADE: That's a good question, Michel. I think the first thing to look at is to look at who actually drives. The most common form of government-issued ID are driver's licenses and so the people who are most unlikely to drive, as it is, is elderly, the poor, people who live in big cities, like African-Americans, especially young people, too, especially if they attend college. They may not have need for a car at the moment.

And then people who are in rural areas. The other challenge for them is they are not near the Department of Motor Vehicles offices, etc., etc. where you would get these IDs.

MARTIN: And you met a voter like that. Would you tell us about her?

DADE: I did. I talked with Rethel Frank(ph). She's 84 years old. She lives in Brokaw, Wisconsin, and she has an interesting story because she typifies what many seniors are experiencing. Many of them never had birth certificates to begin with, and if they did, they were incorrectly - their names were incorrectly put onto these documents. And if that's the case, then you're not going to get an ID. They will not accept discrepancies between your birth certificate and other forms of ID that you may have, like a Social Security card and those kinds of things.

MARTIN: And so you - what did she tell you?

DADE: Well, let's listen to what she had to say when I interviewed her.

RETHEL FRANK: I laid my baptismal certificate on top of the counter because I figured that all the information that they would need would be on that baptismal certificate and she looked at me and she said, well, this is illegal. She said, how do I know that you aren't an alien? I was - well, just like somebody took a pan and hit me in the face. I could have cried.

MARTIN: So here's an example of a person who had been voting for years.

DADE: Right.

MARTIN: It's all of these issues that you talked about. She's elderly. She doesn't drive.

DADE: Right.

MARTIN: She was born at a time when there was not a lot of attention paid to these sort of details, particularly for African-Americans. Others would argue that the issue of voter fraud is significant enough that people ought to...

DADE: Just go and get the ID.

MARTIN: ...meet a certain burden. They just go and get the ID.

DADE: Right.

MARTIN: So the question is, why don't they?

DADE: If there's - right. If you an eligible voter, why not just go get the ID? And I think, with Rethel Frank, it's important to note that she's the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed in Wisconsin by the American Civil Liberties Union. That organization is actually trying to overturn this law.

So, beyond that, though, for starters, again, if you're someone trying to get a voter ID, you need that type of documentation. In order to get an ID, you often need an ID, so it becomes a Catch 22.

MARTIN: And what about - are the states making any provision to help voters like this who have not previously had IDs...

DADE: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...to get them? Or are interest groups doing that?

DADE: Well, they are. The interest groups are trying to fill in the void of information, where to get the IDs, what kind of documents you need to get them when you show up so you're not caught unawares.

As far as the states go, they are issuing non-driver voter IDs. Many of them are for free, but the problem is, when you go to Department of Motor Vehicle offices, the waits are very long, they're time consuming. The governor of Tennessee, who's a Republican, by the way - he has expressed concern about the average wait times there, which extend well beyond an hour. And if you're talking about thousands of elderly, in particular, they can't wait that long.

MARTIN: Well, it turns out that - it seems as though this is going to be a story that's going to actually continue. It's going to be with us for a while because it really does seem to have an impact, particularly in certain states.

DADE: Absolutely. You have legal cases that are coming up from state to state. South Carolina got its proposed law rejected by the Department of Justice and they are mounting a million dollar case to take it to federal court and that's going to happen from state to state.

MARTIN: That's NPR's digital correspondent Corey Dade speaking to us about voter ID laws and what groups of Americans are most likely not to have IDs. He's been reporting on this and he joined us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Once again, thanks so much.

DADE: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.