By Erin McKee
As of 2014, laws requiring voters to present some form of identification are in place in the majority of US states. Laws that require voters to present a current government-issued photo ID before voting are the most restrictive of these. States continue to consider additional requirements and to make changes to existing voter ID requirements at a rapid pace.
Impact on Older Adults
|At the 2015 Aging in America Conference, Erin will present "A Helping Hand in the Voting Booth: Helping Older Adults Navigate New Voter ID Laws," on Wednesday, March 25 during the Aging in America Conference in Riverside Center East, Board 613 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. You can search the entire program via our website and get the conference app.|
Although the majority of Americans have some kind of government-issued photo ID, as many as 11% do not. Among those who lack this kind of ID, many are over age 65. In fact, 1 in 5 citizens over age 65 are estimated to be without a valid government-issued ID. When states require citizens to present a specific form of ID before voting, those requirements can have a negative impact on the ability of older Americans to vote.
Older Americans may not have a valid government-issued photo ID for a number of reasons. Because many older adults by choice or necessity do not drive, they may lack a common form of government-issued photo ID, namely, a valid driver's license. Although states offer photo ID cards for non-drivers, it is possible to go through daily life relying on forms of ID that do not display a photo, such as Medicaid, Social Security, or bank cards. This is especially true of people who have been known in their communities for a number of years.
Additionally, most state laws require a person applying for a non-driver ID card to present documents verifying the person's citizenship, identity, and residence. These documents include a birth certificate and other verification which may be expensive or impossible to track down. For instance, people born in rural areas before the 1950s may never have been issued a birth certificate. In effect, most laws require an ID before they will issue an ID. With all of the hassle involved in traveling from office to office, filling out forms, and paying fees, there are any number of reasons why a person might give up on the idea of obtaining an acceptable ID before Election Day. At best, these voter ID laws can be an inconvenience. At worst, they keep people—mostly older and with lower incomes—away from the polls, even though all citizens deserve to have their votes count.
Although there are many great websites containing data on voter ID laws from different states, their content is not usually aimed at the general public. Official state resources also vary in quality, comprehensiveness, and ease of use from state to state. In response to this problem, VoterIDHelp.org summarizes information about voter ID requirements in each state and presents it in a way that is accessible to a wide audience. The site features a map of states by category (photo ID required, photo or other ID required, no ID required, ID requirement struck down) and visitors can obtain detailed information about each state. This information will be updated as new developments occur.
Use for Professionals in Aging-Related Fields
By making this information as user-friendly and as straightforward as possible, VoterIDHelp.org seeks to eliminate some of the confusion surrounding voter ID requirements and help more older adults vote at the polls in 2016.
This website works best as the beginning of a conversation—not the end. Share this information with friends, family, and community members who may be affected by these laws. For professionals in aging-related fields, this resource can be a useful starting point for ensuring your clients understand what ID is required to vote and can obtain acceptable ID before the 2016 election.
As a co-founder of VoterIDHelp.org, I look forward to meeting you at the 2015 Aging in America Conference. Please drop by during our poster session, A Helping Hand in the Voting Booth, at noon on March 25. Older Americans deserve to have their voices heard.
Eric McFee, MFA, is a student at Wake Forest University Elder Law Clinic. Her poster presentation, A Helping Hand in the Voting Booth: Helping Older Adults Navigate New Voter ID Laws, is on Wednesday, March 25 during the Aging in America Conference in Riverside Center East, Board 613 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. You can search the entire program via our website and get the conference app.