Thursday, 17 April 2014

Your name’s not down

Laws requiring photo ID could prevent homeless people from voting, says Maria Foscarinis

US special logo

As election season heats up, laws recently enacted in numerous states threaten to disenfranchise some 5 million eligible voters, including many who are poor and homeless.

The new laws require photo identification as a precondition to voting. Proponents argue they are needed to prevent fraud, and that state-issued photo ID is free. But studies show voter fraud is extremely rare and obtaining a state-issued ID can be complicated and expensive.

In Wisconsin, for example, getting a ‘free’ state-issued photo ID requires proving your name and date of birth; identity; citizenship or other appropriate immigration status; and residency. And acceptable proof is neither free nor easy for many to obtain. One of the ways to prove your name and date of birth is with a birth certificate. For those who don’t have one, ordering a birth certificate requires a fee of $20 (£12.40) or more.

Two of the following documents can also be used: a state-issued employee ID, a passport, a cheque book, a credit card, a health insurance card, a lease, a recent utility bill, or a recent traffic ticket. In other words, getting a ‘free’ ID requires having: a job, the possibility of international travel, a bank account, health care, housing, or access to a car.

Wisconsin is one of 44 US states that enacted or considered such laws over the past year. Some have been overturned, but many remain, making it difficult or impossible for many to vote this November. Without access to the ballot box, these Americans will be further marginalised.

Maria Foscarinis is a lawyer and founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

sign in register



  • Immigration bill will cause problems for 'many British citizens', says RLA

    10 October 2013

    A bill published today by the Home Office would legally force private landlords to check tenants immigration status and the Residential Landlords Association believes this will be done by checking passports which could cause problems for ‘many British citizens’.

  • Fraud squad


    An investigation in Westminster has uncovered housing benefit fraud on a grand scale. Kate Youde examines what went wrong and finds out what lessons other councils can learn

  • Portrait of a lady


    Life has some hard lessons for girls who grow up with no education, no stable family and no idea of what it means to be a parent, says Julie Fawcett

  • A private matter


    It isn’t just social tenants who need financial advice and support during the storm of welfare reform, argues Bill Randall

  • Social landlord agrees immigration deal with the Home Office


    Glasgow landlord to report suspicions over legal status of housing applicants


  • Breaking point


    Social landlords with diverse property portfolios need to be aware of complications relating to commercial leases, says Neil Ham

  • Rights to remain


    Pre-tenancy checks are the only way landlords can avoid a lengthy and expensive eviction process, says Glyn Lloyd

  • Housing lessons to learn


    With a week left to enter the Into Africa competition, Erick Kabendera reports from Dar es Salaam on the rise of affordable housing

  • The cost-cutting continues


    More cuts to legal aid will further limit tenants’ ability to bring cases to court, says Ole Hansen, partner at Hansen Palomares Solicitors

  • Put out the red light


    Violence, sex work and drug dealing were blighting one east London estate. In response, the landlord and police brought in the vice squad. Pavan Amara investigates whether it made a difference