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The High Cost of a Free Voter ID | Race-Talk

The High Cost of a Free Voter ID

Filed under: African Americans,Opinion,Politics,Racial Equity,US |


In his speech at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Attorney General Eric Holder recognized the primacy of the right to vote:

The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy. And no force has proved more powerful – or more integral to the success of the great American experiment – than efforts to expand the franchise.

With voting law changes under review by the Justice Department, Holder was judicious in his remarks:

Since January, more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures. Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We’re also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedures, including the number of days in the early voting period.

As a founding member of the Election Protection Coalition, I was heartened by Holder’s call for citizens to “speak out. Raise awareness about what’s at stake.”

Civil rights and advocacy groups, including the ACLU, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP, are rightly challenging restrictive photo ID laws. But with the 2012 election less than 11 months away, voters need assistance right now.

So at the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon at Drexel University, I shared the problem facing millions of voters who, for the first time, must show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.

In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U. S. Supreme Court held that states with restrictive photo ID requirements must provide free voter IDs. While the voter ID is free, the document a citizen must produce to establish his or her identity is not free. Those documents include a certified copy of a birth certificate or a passport. Of course, if a voter has a passport, there would no need for a voter ID.

The cost of obtaining a birth certificate ranges from $5.00 in some counties in Indiana to $25.00 in Georgia. In addition to the state fee, an applicant will have to pay for postage and photocopying (if requested by mail), a processing fee (if ordered online) or transportation (if requested in person).

My team developed a prototype for the Cost of Freedom App, a location-based web app that will provide voters with information on how to apply for a voter ID. If voters do not have the documents to establish their identity, they can type in their address to find out how to obtain, for instance, a certified copy of their birth certificate and the cost. If they want to apply in person, they will be given the location, office hours, and directions using public transportation.

The Cost of Freedom App will be crowd-sourced by citizen developers, researchers, bloggers, teachers, librarians and ordinary Americans who are concerned about the impact of photo ID requirements on voter participation. To get involved in this citizen-led initiative to protect the right to vote, visit us at Facebook.com/CostofFreedom.