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Report: voter ID laws place substantial burden on right to vote

The Brennan Center for Justice [advocacy website] released a report on Tuesday describing the burden on Americans who must obtain government-issued photo ID to comply with restrictive state voter ID laws. The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification [report, PDF; press release] is the first comprehensive assessment of the difficulties that eligible voters face in obtaining free photo ID in order to vote. According to the report, the 11 percent of eligible voters who lack the required photo ID must travel to a designated government office to obtain one, and voter restrictive states are legally required to provide a photo ID free of charge. However, in those states more than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week, over one million of whom fall below the federal poverty line, and nearly 500,000 of whom do not have access to a vehicle. Furthermore, voters may be particularly affected by the significant costs of the documentation required to obtain a photo ID, such as birth certificates and marriage licenses that can cost up to $25. The report notes by comparison that the poll tax [Cornell LII backgrounder] that the US Supreme Court struck down [Harper opinion] as unconstitutional in 1966 was $1.50, or $10.62 in 2012 dollars [BLS inflation calculator]. The report also documents the idiosyncratic hours of certain ID-issuing offices, such as a Wisconsin office that is only open on the fifth Wednesday of each month (there are only four such Wednesdays in 2012). Ten states—Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin—now carry the most restrictive "no photo, no vote" type of voter ID law.

For their laws to take effect, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas must receive from the Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Section 5 preclearances [DOJ backgrounder] under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) [materials]. The VRA was enacted to put an end to the systematic disenfranchisement of minority voters that ran rampant in Southern districts in the 1960s. Section 5 relies heavily on patterns of past discrimination to determine which state, county and local governments must obtain preclearance for election changes. Wisconsin's Dane County Circuit Court [official website] struck down that state's voter ID law as unconstitutional in March and again last week [JURIST reports]. The court issued a temporary injunction [JURIST report] barring the law from taking effect, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court [official website] has refused to consider appeals [JURIST report], presently leaving the matter to the Wisconsin Courts of Appeal. The law could go into effect if the rulings are overturned. There are now more than 30 US states [NCSL backgrounder] that require voters to present some form of ID at the polls, including 17 states that have passed laws that require a photo ID.

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