Voting rights “evangelist” Faye Anderson says advocates who’ve been protesting new state photo voter ID laws have it all wrong. When voting rights advocates prop up elderly voters who might be disenfranchised because they may not have the correct form of ID, or the necessary documents to obtain proper voting ID, these are the wrong avatars for the campaigns.
“Advocates have done themselves a disservice by bringing up these 80- and 90-year-old voters. Those are not the votes who are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws,” said Anderson in a phone interview. “As an advocate you want to influence public opinion and you’re not influencing them if you are putting up the faces of 80- and 90-year-old voters.”
Elderly voters losing out on voter participation is a very real thing, as evidenced recently in Wisconsin. But instead, she says advocates should be focused on voters who resemble her: A middle-aged New York transplant living in Philadelphia, who commutes up and down the East Coast, traveling without a driver’s license. Like many New Yorkers, Anderson doesn’t drive so she doesn’t need one. She has a non-driver’s photo identification from New York, and other than that she has a passport. It wasn’t easy getting a New York ID, Anderson told me, and she’s concerned chiefly with women like her who might also have troubles getting the ID they need to vote, especially if they’ve been recently married, divorced or if they’ve moved, all of which could lead to name and address mismatches on Election Day.
The new Pennsylvania photo voter ID law is “disenfranchising by design to make voters jump through all these hoops,” said Anderson. “It’s unreasonable that women, with all that’s going on in their lives, will then have time to sit down and Google ‘where do I get my birth certificate,’ ‘where do I find my marriage certificate,’ ‘where to find the closest social security office,’ the hours they’re open, how to get there, and once there do they have all the documents they need.”
Anderson was able to do it, but she is a long-time voting rights advocate, and is trained to know the answers to these questions. But there are many women who are ill-served by the new photo voter ID laws. A Brennan Center for Justice survey shows that ten percent of voting-age Americans don’t have ID with both current name and address on it — many of those are women whose last names change with marriages, and whose address might change due to separations, divorces or just trying to get away from an abusive spouse situation.
Rather than simply moan about these problems, though, Anderson decided to link up with some web developers to create the Cost of Freedom online application, which would give voters detailed information on where to find documents like birth and marriage certificates, where those offices are located, and how late they stay open. There are a number of organizations that provide similar maps — the NAACP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and the National Conference of State Legislaturesto name a few — but Anderson said her application will be more user-friendly because voters can find information based off their zip code — a sort of Yelp! for voting-related locations.