You know how to vote, right? Just show up, show your voter ID card, close the little curtain and avoid hanging chads, right? Not so fast. Since 2011, many states have enacted voter identification laws of various degrees. Check the National Conference of State Legislatures website to find your state's requirements. In most cases, your voter ID card isn't enough anymore.
Seventeen states so far have enacted legislation that requires voters to show proof of identification in addition to a voter ID card before voting. Some states require a photo ID, some don't. Some even require a government-issued photo ID. Some states will accept your electric bill, as long as your name and address are on it (they won't pay it, though).
The Part That Makes Sense
Accusations of voter fraud have been slung from both sides since the Bush/Gore campaign, and state lawmakers are finally doing something about it. Requiring a photo identification is simply a way to ensure that each person votes only once, and that each voter is a resident of the district in which he or she votes. Simple, right? What's the problem? Well, there are many problems.
The Part That Gives You Pause
Democracy is a government for the people, by the people. Voting is super important to us, or so we claim (even though so many of us don't do it, but that's a separate issue). By law, every citizen is allowed to vote for free. No charge. Charging money to vote is called a Poll Tax, and it has been officially declared unconstitutional. It's not just a crime, it's a human rights violation.
But requiring a voter to show a photo ID, especially a government-issued one, doesn't take into account the cost of obtaining those documents. Think about it - to get a state ID, you may have to show a birth certificate, a marriage license, and other government documentation. Copies can cost $25. No $25, no documentation, no photo ID. No photo ID, no voting for you. Starts to sound kind of like a poll tax, huh?
The Part That Makes You Mad
There are those who believe that the new voter ID laws are just a way to keep certain demographics away from the polls. Lawmakers deny it (of course!), but some instances look pretty suspicious. Like the fact that Texas (a red state) accepts gun permits (mostly conservatives) but not college IDs (mostly liberal). Like the fact that many elderly (huge Democratic base) live far from the DMV, and have mobility issues as well as financial limitations. The fact that in big urban areas where cars are unnecessary and therefore drivers licenses are rare, a resident might have to take the day off of work to obtain a government-issued photo ID. Because this resident lives in this big city, taking a day off work could mean the difference between affording the rent or not.
And the sneaky part is that states aren't exactly advertising these new laws. If you don't look it up yourself ahead of time, you may show up at the polls only to find you don't have the right kind of ID.
So... What, Then?
If you show up to vote without the right ID, you are still allowed to cast a provisional ballot, even in the strictest states. You may have to show a valid form of ID within a few days to have your vote counted, but at least you can work within that time frame (hope you have an understanding boss). Some of the less strict states have identification affidavits, you can fill out to cast a regular ballot.
So check your state's requirements before November rolls around, and get all your ducks in a row ahead of time. Voting isn't just your right, it's your responsibility. Spread the word.