This election season, Americans have certainly seen their share of inflammatory rhetoric, polarizing discussion and heated debate – all about a myriad of issues that will be dramatically affected by the outcome on November 6. And, as most of these issues are impacted BY the outcome of the election, one contentious issue has been a flashpoint FOR the outcome of the election – voter identification laws.
While voter identification laws are, on the surface, designed to prevent voter fraud, the reality is that the degree of strictness of the laws may suppress eligible voters from going to the polls because of the confusion those laws create for voters about their eligibility. And it is more important than ever that all eligible Americans – especially people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS – get out and vote! Knowing your state’s voter identification laws NOW will ensure that you will be able to cast your vote in the 2012 election.
The Current Climate of Voter Identification
Confusion is understandable. Thirty-three states have enacted voter ID laws and the laws in 30 of those are in effect for in the 2012 election. Recently, several states have had some high-profile volleying between lawmakers and the courts about their respective laws. For instance, on October 10, a federal court ruled that South Carolina’s new voter ID law strictly requiring voters to present a valid photo ID at the polls could not be enforced for the upcoming election because it did not allow for enough time to properly educate voters and election officials about the change. However, this law could be enacted in 2013 and be enforced in future elections. Similarly, on October 2, a Pennsylvania judge blocked a law that would require voters in Pennsylvania to present a photo ID in order to vote on November 6, claiming that the necessary information and documents would not adequately be provided in time for the election. Despite this ruling, election officials in Pennsylvania may still ask voters for valid forms of identification on November 6th; however, voters do not need to present a valid ID in order to vote on a normal voting machine.
Varying Law Strictness and Identification Type Requirements
While voter identification laws are in effect in 30 states, the type of identification required and the strictness of the law varies from state to state. In some states, voters without an ID can simply sign an affidavit affirming their identity or have an election official vouch for their identity prior to voting, and are then eligible to vote using standard voting machines. In other states, voters who cannot produce a valid photo ID are eligible to vote using a provisional ballot, which requires them to return to election officials with a valid photo ID within a certain amount of time from the election in order for their ballot to be counted.
History, Evolution, and Implementation of Voter Identification
IDs were not always required in order to vote. In fact, no state required voters to produce valid forms of identification until 2006, when Indiana passed a strict photo ID law. However, the past few months have seen a substantial increase in the number of states attempting to pass stricter voter identification laws requiring voters to present a government issued photo ID. Proponents of these laws, the majority of whom are Republicans, believe it will reduce voter fraud. Those who oppose these laws argue that individual voter fraud is very rare and that ID laws are an attempt to reduce voter turnout among those groups that do not possess identification -- and who also tend to vote Democrat -- including student, poor, urban and minority voters. Even in states where obtaining a valid photo ID is free, the process often requires people to pay for a copy of their birth certificate or travel long distances.
Know your State’s Voter ID Laws! Get out and Vote!
These voter ID laws could have a significant impact on voter turnout; as lawmakers and judges spar over their validity, voters are left confused about their eligibility and therefore may be less inclined to vote on November 6. And for people living with HIV/AIDS, the outcomes of this election will affect implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the Affordable Care Act, as well as funding for critical federal HIV research, prevention, care and treatment programs. In what is sure to be a close election, every vote counts! To find out what YOUR state requires, visit http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx.
If you haven’t yet registered, check out your state’s voter registration deadlines and, if you are within the deadline, register TODAY at http://www.longdistancevoter.org/voter_registration_deadlines#.UIF9e2fz5sp .
For more information on the history of voter identification laws and current discourse on the topic, visit