The Struggle for Elderly Voting Rights in NC
By Abe Johns
Do you have a right to vote? Most citizens do. But for some, their ability to vote may be in jeopardy.
As news of the midterm elections reach a fever pitch nationally, our home state of North Carolina has taken center stage as one of the key races to watch. The result of the election could shift the majority party represented in the senate to the Republican Party. Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan (D) faces current Speaker of the House of Representatives of North Carolina, Thom Thillis (R). Throughout the summer, the polls have placed the two neck-in-neck.
Voting in November 2014
As the opponents move from debate about President Obama to education to ISIS, the new Voter ID laws that N.C. has implemented have remained in the background. These laws, which have prompted the Justice Department to sue the state, will require voters to show photo identification at the polls starting in 2016.
Two of the new provisions of the North Carolina voting rights law that were first rejected in a 2-1 decision of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and then allowed to be enforced during this election period by the Supreme Court on October 9th, include:
The ability to register to vote on the same day during the early-voting period.
The ability to vote outside of your designated precinct.
How Voting Laws Affect the Elderly
Reports on new photo ID voting laws often cite how these laws will “disproportionately affect low-income, young minorities, women, and elderly voters”.
Let’s dig into the claim about the elderly population. What do the numbers actually look like?
Nationally, 1 in 10 eligible voters do not have a necessary government-issued photo ID – 18 percent of this group is over 65-years-old. [Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law]
According to North Carolina’s State Board of Elections DMV Analysis published in January 2013, nearly 150,000 North Carolina citizens over 65-years-old lack a valid DMV issued ID.
Why don’t they get a driver’s license or a N.C. state ID?
While a visit to the DMV might sound simple, the need to visit creates multiple issues for elderly citizens, including:
Possesion of a birth certificates as identification, which AARP notes, many people over 65 lack, as a standardized record of births was not yet in place.
Travel distance to the DMV or state office as a barrier to obtaining an ID.
Cost of buying an ID - while it might seem minimal, some who cannot afford it will have another barrier to cast their vote, which has been exemplified in other states with similar restrictive laws.
Why Create New Voting Laws?
These laws are borne from a fear that ballots are being cast fraudulently. But the actual numbers do not reflect that voter fraud is a pervasive issue or an issue at all.
The New York Times reported in 2007 that the Justice Department filed only 120 cases of voter fraud in the past five years.
National investigative project, News21, found that only one of every 15 million voters used impersonation to vote.
A Better Way for Seniors
Overall, the new voter ID laws are not beneficial to N.C. elderly residents. The right to vote is a Constitutional right that many of us take for granted, as we have the means to do so easily. But for those who now have more barriers to the voting booth, their ability to vote is in jeopardy.
“A photo ID requirement is the worst kind of electoral policy solution – it creates an illusion of security while offering no real solution to any identified problem with election administration, while simultaneously creating real consequences for many legal and qualified voters.”
–Keesha Gaskins, of Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, testimony before the N.C. General Assembly’s committee on voter ID on March 13, 2013.