Election Day is coming up on Tuesday, Nov. 6, and it is more important than ever that every eligible Virginian exercise the fundamental right to vote.
Voter ID laws such as the ones we have in Virginia make it harder for minorities and people with lower incomes to do so, however.
Studies have shown that in states with strict voter ID laws like Virginia’s, minority turnout is lower on Election Day while voting rates for whites are unaffected. In fact, Virginia has been ranked as the second-hardest state in which to vote in large part because of our requirement that people can only vote if they take certain, approved identification with them to the polls.
A higher percentage of African-Americans don’t have a driver’s license, for example, because they tend to have lower incomes and can’t afford a car, or live in urban areas with public transportation and so they don’t need one.
In Virginia, anyone without proper ID can get an approved one for free from their local registrar’s office, even on Election Day. But that means both a trip to the registrar’s office and then another one to their local polling place on Election Day. That is a challenge for many people, either because of lack of transportation or limited time off from work.
Keep in mind that voting fraud is an almost non-existent problem, so these laws’ only real effect preventing minorities from voting. Politicians who make the rules do so to benefit their side, and this usually ends up disproportionately hurting certain people’s access to the ballot box.
These unnecessary restrictions are a big part of why the ACLU of Virginia is working toward establishing no-excuse absentee voting in person or by mail, and a state constitutional right to vote for all Virginians over 18.
For the coming election on Nov. 6, anyone, including and especially minorities, should make sure they have an accepted form of ID before going to the polls, and take steps now to get one if they don’t.
And, remember, if you don’t have an accepted form of ID when you get to the polls, you do have the right to cast a provisional ballot.
Better yet, anyone who experiences a problem at the polls on Election Day should call the ACLU of Virginia’s voter hotline at 804-644-8080 from 6 a.m.-8 p.m. on Nov. 6.