Voter ID Laws as a Form of Voter Suppression

Voter ID laws as a form of voter suppression by disenfranchising marginalized populations

With all the craziness going on in the world, elections have been on a lot of people’s minds lately. The other day I started watching Chelsea Handler’s new documentary special on Netflix called Hello, Privilege. It’s Me, Chelsea. One of the things it touched on was voter suppression through rules around voter ID. It’s an issue that disproportionately affects racial minorities, but it also negatively affects other disadvantaged groups as well.

I suspect the average person would probably think that having rules around ID is a good thing. What’s less obvious, though, is that this practice ends up disenfranchising a segment of the population that is likely to face other disadvantages as well. This includes impoverished people living with mental illness.

Although concerns have been raised in recent years about foreign actors (particularly Russia) attempting to interfere with Western elections, actual voter fraud at the level of individuals going to polling stations is very rare.

Any country must find the right balance between deterring fraud and ensuring suffrage for marginalized populations. The former is often a lot more popular than the latter.

A paradox: You can’t get ID without ID

Consider that it is really, really hard to get ID when you don’t already have ID. I never realized how hard until I started working in community mental health. Requirements vary depending on where you live, but sometimes it can be next to impossible.

In Canada, the go-to piece of ID to be able to replace other pieces of ID is the birth certificate. To get a replacement birth certificate, you need to provide your parent’s place of birth. Let’s say you don’t know that, and don’t really have a way of finding out. Maybe one parent died years ago, and the other is in jail for molesting you as a child. On top of that, you’re estranged from the rest of your family for getting your parent thrown in jail where they belong. Too bad, so sad, no ID for you.

One client of mine was born in the UK and immigrated to Canada as a young child. For him, a citizenship card was the basic foundational piece of ID. This isn’t related to voting, but it’s an example of how hard it can be. He needed this to prove how long he’d been in Canada in order to apply for Old Age Security benefits. His citizenship card would prove this, but it was literally impossible to get a replacement because he had no ID, didn’t know details about his parents’ arrival in Canada, and couldn’t ask them because they were dead. We ended up having to track down his old school records to prove he’d been in the country since he was a kid so he could get his pension.

Electoral laws in Canada

Current laws for federal elections in Canada require a voter to prove their identity and their address. There is a broad range of acceptable identification, including a prescription pill bottle. Changes were made prior to the 2015 federal election allowing voter information cards, which get mailed out to everyone on the voters list, to serve as proof of address. For people who are unable to prove their identity or address, they can do a written attestation and have a neighbour with proper ID vouch for them. For people who are homeless, chances are pretty good they’re out of luck.

In the 2015 election, less than 1% of voters had a neighbour vouch for them. According to Elections Canada, “172,000 electors could not exercise their right to vote because they did not have accepted proof of identity and/or address.”

Electoral laws in the U.K.

According to the U.K.-based Electoral Reform Society, the government there has been looking at requiring photo ID to vote. Yet it states that 3.5 million citizens do not have photo ID. The site argues that: “With no evidence of widespread fraud, even a handful of people not voting as they left their ID at home would have a far bigger impact on election results than alleged fraud.”

Electoral laws in the U.S.

The Wikipedia page on U.S. voter ID laws notes that in 2006, Indiana became the first state to require photo ID to vote. Since then, 7 other states have also banned strict photo ID laws. Ten states request photo ID but do have other options available. Non-photo ID is strictly required in 3 states. In 16 states, no ID is required in order to vote. The Republican Party has pushed for stricter voter ID requirements. A number of sources cited on the Wikipedia page indicate that voter fraud of the type that would be prevented by voter ID laws is extremely rare.

It’s very easy to argue that voter ID is a good thing; it seems self-evident. However, it looks very different when looking at the issue without a lens of privilege. Without that lens, it starts to look a whole lot more like voter suppression. It’s easy to forget about the homeless, low income earners, the elderly, the disabled, and racial/ethnic minorities, all of whom are less likely to have photo ID, because why would they care about voting when so many of us sitting in our privileged positions just can’t be bothered voting?

I think that as nations we are only as good as the way we treat our most disadvantaged citizens. Voting is a fundamental right in any democracy, and we need it to be equally available to all citizens. We owe it to our citizens now, and to all those across the world who have already fought so hard for the right to vote.

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21 thoughts on “Voter ID Laws as a Form of Voter Suppression”

  1. Horrific.

    It’s also very hard to get a decent job without photo ID in this country. I routinely get asked to bring my passport and sometimes other paperwork to job interviews.

  2. I am from tje UK as you kniw and if a photo ID was required, I woudn’t have one.
    I have bern lucky to use alternatives. But there was an ocassion a photo ID was needed. (I can’t remember what for.) But for that, I remember my Provisional License was acceptable. Although I still have that, I did not updste the address when I moved home, because I don’t see the point with me not planning to drive. So I have no photo ID if evet needed.
    I don’t have a Passport, because I am not going anywhere abroad, so why should I be expected to have one.
    If it was ever enforced, then I would be affected.

  3. You hit the nail on the head. “Voter Suppression” This is a major issue here in the states.
    Between this and the Millenials that are half listening to what is taking place in our world today. If it doesn’t suit them and their needs only, they lose interest and move on.
    The past election when that scumbag Trump was elected into office, I was at a disadvantage. It was then, I was homeless. (Not like my one vote would have meant anything, and I didn’t like Hillary or Donald etiher)., However, I had no standing at the time.
    This time around… I’ll be damned sitting on the sidelines doing nothing about it. I want that bastard out of there!

      1. I can’t tell you how many people I still know that are suppressed… They think the same way I do, but if they can’t vote? Then add that to the hundreds of thousands that are in the same perdicament… I’m so afraid that this idiot will remain in office.
        I have never shared this with any of my readers before. Hell, I haven’t shared this with anyone for that matter…
        My roommate is actually enjoying his term in office. She thinks this entire term has been “Entertaining” Do you have any idea how pissed off this makes me? I mean seriously. Word for word, “Well, he hasn’t blown us or anyone else up, yet.” This is what I hear on a weekly basis.
        The minute she starts in on speaking about politics, I excuse myself out of the room.
        My nerves are rattled everytime that twittering jackass speaks, if that’s even what you want to call it.
        ***** Breathing now*****
        Sorry, this is a topic I rear my ugly head about.
        Voting is a privledge. But, people need to LISTEN, observe, study up on the backround of a future ruler. Then and only then, make a educated decission to the best of your ability who you feel is really going to serve the country for the better. Not to allow it to be the laughing stock of the world.
        **** Back to breathing****
        Ahhhhhh. 😤

        1. It boggles my mind that there are so many people that support the orange monster. I can understand that some people are Republican, but in my mind that’s no excuse for supporting the pussy-grabber-in-chief.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with requiring voter ID, if it’s 100% free every step of the way, including getting any documents mailed to you. And once you have it, it should be scanned it for a permanent record. Replacements should also be free.

    I had a bit of hassle and expense getting my birth certificate as a “normal American citizen” a few years ago. Dunno why I didn’t have it, but I suspect it was lost in the black hole of my ex husband’s “filing system.” Anyway, my parents are dead and I didn’t remember where I was born (we moved a lot). Finally, I figured it out.

    But the people who commit “voter fraud” are really Republicans, which is why they hammer away at the issue to deflect attention from themselves. What I’m talking about is their insane gerrymandering (cutting up) of districts to unfairly ensure that their cronies keep getting elected ~ people who are unrepresentative of the population.

  5. Oooooooh my. Thank you for talking about this. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I briefly noted more talks about this going on in Canada in one of my most recent posts, but I really didn’t do it justice.

    While it seems like a good idea in theory, if a government is going to start throwing around the promise of voter ID requirements, I’m of the opinion that they need to go to every nook and cranny of my country and walk people to the counter and help them apply for and get the ID required. Because unless they do, they’re essentially stripping some really disenfranchised groups of people of the ability to vote. And I really don’t like that idea.

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