This November, several states will implement their new Voter Identification laws, many of which require the presentation of a valid photo ID at the time of casting the ballot. These laws were ostensibly designed to eliminate voter fraud at the polls; however, instead of actually preventing voter fraud (of which there appears to be very little, according to a Brennan Center for Justice Report), these laws will prevent up to 5 million registered voters from casting their ballots, through photo-ID, citizenship, and registration restrictions.These laws specifically target low-income, minority, women, and transgender voters.
The new voter ID laws are almost completely supported by Republicans. Why would the Republican party want to suppress female voter turnout? Because women are more likely than men to vote and are more likely to vote Democratic. Recent research from the Pew Hispanic Center showed that women outnumbered men at the polls during the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. This is especially true of black women, who were the had the highest voter turnout of any demographic in 2008, with almost 69 percent. Black women overwhelmingly supported Obama in that election, and they have consistently been the Democratic Party’s most consistent voting bloc. Furthermore, Barack Obama leads in the latest polls among all women nationwide–in many states by 10 to 25 points.
Here’s how voter identification laws could keep women and transgender people from casting their votes:
The biggest risk for women being turned away from the polls is because of a recent name change. The Brennan Center reports that American women change their surnames in about 90 percent of marriages and divorces. These women often have to wait several weeks or months to receive a form of identification with their corresponding new last name. Previously, an older ID card would have sufficed at the polls, but now these women could find themselves unable to vote. Instead, they will be asked to fill out a separate ballot and provide a court-issued proof of their marriage or divorce, which takes time and money to obtain. According to the Brennan Center, only 48 percent of American women have a birth certificate with their current name. The American Prospect reports that only 66 percent of American women possess current legal identification with their current last name, so this could affect millions of voters.
Getting to the polls is already difficult enough for women, especially for those with children, work, and who do not drive. Requiring an extra trip to the courthouse to obtain a legal document, not to mention the new provisions outlawing same-day voter registration, could prevent many women from being able to complete the voting process.
Transgender voters, who are also more likely to vote for Democrats, face a difficult fight as well. The Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California, Los Angeles law school, estimates that 25,000 transgender voters will be disenfranchised this year, as 41 percent do not have updated driver’s licenses and 74 percent do not have a passport. Although the burden of obtaining a state-issued ID is costly and time-consuming for all those affected by voter ID laws, transgender voters face even more obstacles; in some cases they will have to present proof of their gender change in order to receive a new ID card, which typically requires gender-reassignment surgeries costing between $40 and 50,000.The burden increases for transgender people of color; blacks and Native Americans are even less likely than white transgender people to have an updated gender on their driver’s licenses.
The states that have legislated these new rules have a total of 171 electoral votes. Voter-ID law proponents know that suppressing women and other minorities could drastically affect the election.
In fact, many Republicans are banking on it. On June 23, Pennsylvania State House Leader Mike Turzai expressed confidence in the laws at a Republican State Committee meeting.“Voter ID…is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” he said.
For complete voting-identification laws, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Emilie Egger is a first-year student in Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College.