Voter ID laws hurt more than just minorities; they also seriously disadvantage women.
The laws, which proponents say are meant to stop in-person voter fraud, have drawn ire from opponents who point out that in-person fraud is almost non-existent and say the laws are meant to prevent minorities, who skew Democratic, from voting.
But one largely overlooked angle is how they disadvantage married and divorced women, a segment of the population that encompasses all races, ages, socioeconomic statuses and education levels.
Some voter ID laws, like the one in Indiana, require people to present proof of citizenship with their current name to get a recognized ID. Women with a legal name that does not match the one on their photo ID have to show a certified document, like a marriage license or divorce papers, to get the ID.
“They have to connect the dots,” Marian Schneider, an attorney with the Advancement Project, a voter rights organization said. “And that can be very difficult.”
The Advancement Project and several other organizations filed a suit in 2012 alleging that Pennsylvania’s photo ID law violates the state constitution’s guarantee of the right to vote.
Consider the case of Joyce Block, one of the initial plaintiffs in the Pennsylvania case. She needed to get a recognized Pennsylvania ID to vote in 2012, at the age of 89. Her birth certificate and social security number were in her maiden name, Joyce Altman. She had a marriage certificate that would typically be a recognized way to “connect the dots.” There was just one problem. The only thing she had was a Jewish marriage contract called a Ketubah, written in Hebrew. A clerk at the ID-issuing office wouldn’t accept it and declined her offer to have it translated.
Luckily, through her son-in-law’s connections, state Senator Chuck McIlhinney called and told them to issue the ID, but that’s not standard.
“Not everybody has those connections and can have a clerk at the ID license center exercise that discretion,” Schneider pointed out, adding that it’s not a Pennsylvania-specific issue.
Women in any state that requires a birth certificate to get an ID are impacted.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s Law School, just 48 percent of American women who have easy access to their birth certificate have their current name on it. And it can cost up to $40 to get an official copy of a marriage license, so a married woman without a certified copy of her birth certificate and marriage license could spend up to $70 gathering the documents needed to get a photo ID.
The report also says that only 66 percent of voting-age women with easy access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name on it. That means that about 32 million voting-age women might only have access to proof of citizenship papers that do not reflect their current name.
Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said an “awful lot of women” don’t change their names.
As Kathy Culliton-Gonzalez, a senior attorney and director of Voter Protection for Advancement Project, pointed out, American women change their names in about 90 percent of marriages and divorces. And it can be costly and time consuming to track down or order the necessary documents.
Not all eligible women are going to take, or have the ability to take, the time and spend the money to get the required ID.
There is no good count at the state level of exactly how many women are impacted by the issue, but, said Culliton-Gonzalez, “Anecdotally, we hear it a lot.”
Anytime a voter ID law passes, there’s a risk that would-be voters won’t go through the sometimes tedious process of getting the required ID. And that can mean fewer voters and impacted election outcomes.
“These kind of rules,” Culliton-Gonzalez said, “can have a real chilling effect.”
Emily DeRuy is a Washington, D.C.-based associate editor, covering education, reproductive rights, and inequality. A San Francisco native, she enjoys Giants baseball and misses Philz terribly.