Community activists say states are sacrificing services to enact an unnecessary measure.
States across the nation are facing major budget shortfalls that are forcing them to make significant cuts in education and other key public services. But that hasn’t stopped Republican-controlled legislatures from trying to enact new and/or stricter voter ID laws that critics say are unfair and unnecessary. According to a new report released by the Democratic National Committee, implementing the voter ID laws could cost states between $276 million and $828 million.
“In 2011, Republicans have proposed photo ID legislation in at least 36 states even though these states collectively face over $97 billion in budget shortfalls in the upcoming fiscal year,” the report states. “As demonstrated in Indiana, the first state to enact a photo identification regime, these bills are extremely expensive. In just four years, Indiana spent more than $10 million on providing identification cards alone.”
In North Carolina, says community activist Erin Byrd, legislators want to cut early voting by a week, claiming it will save money. But according to Byrd, it will actually cost the state more, because it will have to open additional voting sites on election nights. In addition, people who’ve been voting at the same site for years will now have to incur the cost of getting the documentation required to get the so-called free ID card, which Byrd contends is tantamount to a poll tax. All the while, Byrd adds, North Carolina is making cuts to education, juvenile justice and other critical programs.
Georgia enacted a photo ID law a couple of years ago, but recently strengthened it to require voters to prove citizenship when registering to vote, using a passport or birth certificate.
“Those documents are not inexpensive,” says activist Helen Butler, especially for people living in rural areas. “It’s just another barrier to make it more difficult for people to vote and there really is no reason for it. People who aren’t citizens don’t tend to register to vote, so it’s just another hurdle that they’ve put in place.”
The photo ID laws also make it more difficult for organizations like the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation to register new voters, but the organization’s executive director, Melanie Campbell, says they won’t allow the laws to deter them from their goal. Organizations like hers exist in part to help government, which never has enough resources, ensure voter participation.
“What is the motivation behind these new rules and laws?” she asks. “It can’t be to help ensure voter participation, because it will only have a negative impact. But whatever the barrier, we will fight it and wherever there are barriers we will work with those laws the best we can so that people can vote.”
(Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria)