Photo ID Laws Could Disenfranchise Black Youth
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Nearly half a million young Blacks face a tough choice as the Nov. 6 presidential election approaches: either get a new, government-issued photo identification or don’t vote.
In “Turning Back the Clock on Voting Rights,” the Black Youth Project, a group that fosters political and civil engagement among young African Americans, outlined how the lack of government-issued photo IDs threaten to disenfranchise young minorities (18-29 years-old), particularly in swing states such as Florida.
According to the report, photo ID requirements could prevent 170,000 to 475,000 young Blacks from casting a vote in the upcoming presidential election. In Florida alone, photo ID laws could block more than 76,000 young Blacks from casting a ballot on Nov. 6, more than enough to turn the tide in the battleground state, where in 2008 then-presidential candidate Barack Obama beat John McCain by less than 3 percent.
The Brennan Center for Justice found that 25 percent of Blacks nationwide don’t possess photo identification compared to just 9 percent of whites. Low-income and “high residential mobility” were also indicators when young people lacked photo ID.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Let’s go pick up an ID. Everyone has ID, right?’ That’s what people say, but the reality is that in order to get the photo ID, you need certain documents,” said Janaye Ingram, Washington, D.C. bureau chief for the National Action Network.
Those documents, whether it’s a birth certificate or a marriage license, are an expense, said Ingram.
In the “The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification,” the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University reported that voters living at the federal poverty line “may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID. Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax — outlawed during the civil rights era — cost $10.64 in current dollars.”
Researchers from the Brennan Center also found that 1.2 million eligible Black voters live more than 10 miles from the closest center that offers government-issued ID that is also open at least twice a week.
Factor in transportation cost to get to an office that issues photo IDs and lost wages from missed work and it’s a sacrifice that weighs heavily on young Blacks living day-to-day.
As young African Americans tread water with the worst unemployment rates in the country, a recent study discovered they are also the most disconnected from society.
The Measure of America, a program that studies well-being and opportunity in America developed by the Social Science Research Council, reported that more than 22 percent of young Blacks (16-24 years old) don’t go to school and don’t work, almost double the national rate of 14.7 percent and the rate for whites (11.7 percent) in the same age group.
During an interview aired on C-SPAN in June 2011, Cathy Cohen, co-founder of the Black Youth Project, said it’s crucial for the future of American politics to craft policies that address the issues facing young Blacks.
“We can’t understand and prepare for the future of American politics unless we understand those who are most marginalized and often excluded from the political discourse,” said Cohen, who co-authored “Turning Back the Clock on Voting Rights.”
Cohen said we have to consider young Black people when we think about policies and the future of American politics.
“Without doing that we’ll probably go down a misguided path and make mistakes that we don’t need to make,” Cohen said.
According to proponents of stricter photo ID requirements for voters, the future of American politics centers on stamping out voter fraud.
But News21, an investigative reporting program sponsored by the Carnegie-Knight Initiative, found 2,068 cases of voter fraud, only 10 involving impersonation. The majority fell under two categories: absentee ballots and voter registration. Photo ID checks would have no affect on preventing the majority of fraud that occurs in voting.
Many young people may be unaware of the battles being waged over their vote.
The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement found that 44 percent of young voters weren’t aware of photo ID laws in their state.
Ingram said this election is not just about this moment in history, it’s also about the future that we want to have.
“Each of us has a role to play in crafting the type of future that we want and the way that we do that, in part, is through the electoral process,” said Ingram.
For some young people of color, that future could involve public service.
“Young people should also start thinking about running for political office,” Ingram said. “The people that are in power are not going to stay there forever.”