Voter’s Rights

The right to vote is an essential right to all American’s and is an important part of the democratic process. However, several states have begun enacting voter ID laws which can dramatically undermine an individual’s right to vote, particularly among minorities and the elderly. These voter ID laws require that a person present a state issued photo ID card, which is proving difficult to obtain for many people who would otherwise be eligible to vote.

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Victoria Applewhite, is suffering from the effects of Pennsylvania’s voter ID law. Mrs. Applewhite is a 93 year old African-American woman who has been a dedicated voter for the past five decades and even took place in civil rights movements fighting to obtain the right for African American’s to vote. Under Pennsylvania’s new laws, she is required to present a state issued photo ID card, and in order to obtain one she must present a valid birth certificate. While this may seem like a simple request, Mrs. Applewhite, like many others, is unable to obtain a proper ID. She was adopted, and while she was finally able to obtain a copy of her birth certificate, the name on her certificate is different from the name she took after she was adopted, she is still unable to obtain a valid Pennsylvania ID, and therefore was unable to vote in November’s elections.[1]

Mrs. Applewhite is not alone in this situation. A reported 11% of voting age Americans lack proper identification required under these voter ID laws. That 11% comes out to about 21 million Americans who will be denied the right to vote based on a lack of state issued identification.[2] These laws particularly inhibit minorities, the poor, the elderly and young voters. Of the 21 million Americans without proper identification, “25% are African-American, 15% earn less than $35,000 a year, 18% are 65 or older, and 20% are 18 to 29.”[3]

Proponents of these laws reason that they are important measures to keep down voter fraud, which can be an important issue especially in areas where the elections are generally close. Texas is another state which implemented a voter ID law in 2011. In support of this law Texas officials looked at areas in Texas such as Loving County, which had a voter turnout of 157% of the total population of the area.[4] Further, proponents of the Texas law looked at reports of “at least 239 dead people casting a ballot in the past year.”[5] Supporters in Texas argue that the requirement of having an acceptable ID card is reasonable and most people need them for everyday life anyway. Further, supporters say that the legislature is required to maintain integrity in the voting process and have said that these laws allow the voters to have confidence in the voting system.[6]

While voter fraud is potentially a big problem, and could drastically undermine the voting process, these laws seem to be a dramatic response to a relatively small number of voter fraud instances. Furthermore, there are already other laws in place to help ensure that individuals do not commit voter fraud. The instances of voter fraud which supporters say justify the voter ID laws are in reality few and far between. In the past decade, only fifty people have been convicted of voter fraud in Texas. Further, the areas where it appears to be a huge problem, such as Loving County, have extremely small populations, illustrating that the few actual incidences of voter fraud likely have no real impact on the large scale elections.

Although the laws are supposed to eliminate voter fraud, they have been increasingly criticized as State’s methods of keeping poorer and minority voters from participating in elections. Many of the states which now enforce these types of laws are the same states that used to utilized literacy tests, taxes and other methods to attempt to control which citizens registered to vote and participated in the elections. As mentioned previously, these laws affect minorities, the poor and the elderly more than any other voter groups. Under the Voter Rights Act of 1965, the Federal Government has the ability to oversee election practices in states that had a history of discriminatory methods.[7] The Texas law was recently struck down by a panel of Federal Judges in Washington, D.C., however proponents say that they will be taking the measure to the Supreme Court.[8] In striking down the law, the court reasoned that the impact of the law fell too heavily on the poor and on Hispanics and African Americans in particular.[9] Texas supporters argue that these types of laws have been upheld by the Supreme Court in states such as Georgia and Indiana, and continue to cite reduction of voter fraud as the reason for the voter ID requirements.[10]

Many of these laws have either been implemented or strengthened in the years following the 2008 election which saw an increase in both young and minority workers. In my opinion, requiring a state issued ID in order to vote does not seem like a huge hurdle for a potential voter. However, because of the lack of evidence of large scale voter fraud that this process is supposed to prevent, and the disparate impact among certain voting groups, I believe that these laws are too restrictive and an overreaction to a problem that does not appear to be happening on a large scale. Some states, such as California, have moved in the opposite direction, making it even easier for people to register to vote by implementing an online voter registration where eligible voters only need a California driver’s license or California ID number in order to register to vote. This has been seen as California’s response to voter ID laws and a manner to increase the number of citizens who go out to vote.[11] I believe that programs such as this are what more states need to implement. As evidenced by the many campaigns attempting to get younger generations to vote, it is important that we do not create further barriers to registration. There are already laws in place which protect against voter fraud, and the strict voter ID laws, like the one in Texas, seem to place unnecessary burdens and hardships, and keep many people from voting, including people who have been voting for many generations.

Voting is one of the most important rights and most important processes in our country. It is important that we implement programs and procedures that do not discourage people, particularly the younger generations from going out to vote. While voter fraud is a legitimate concern, it has to be balanced against the need to have everyone’s voice heard and allow any eligible person to exercise their right to vote.


[1] Penda Hair and Judith Brown Dianis, U.S. Voting Rights Under Siege, CNN Opinion (Aug. 7, 2012, 7:01 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/06/opinion/hair-dianis-voting-rights/index.html.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Bill Mears, Texas Voter ID Law Goes to Court,  CNN U.S. (Jul. 9, 2012, 4:31 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/09/us/texas-voter-id-law/index.html.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Penda Hair and Judith Brown Dianis, U.S. Voting Rights Under Siege, CNN Opinion (Aug. 7, 2012, 7:01 AM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/06/opinion/hair-dianis-voting-rights/index.html.

[8] Melanie Eversley, Texas Voter ID Law Struck Down by Federal Judges, USA Today News (Aug. 30, 2012 9:04 PM), http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-08-30/Texas-voter-ID-law/57454218/1.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11]Albert Sabate, Surge of New California Voters Lean Democrat, ABC News (Nov. 2, 2012), http://abcnews.go.com/ABC_Univision/News/california-record-number-voters-register-online/story?id=17621739#.UJRFX3Vpe8A.

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