Friday, July 20, 2012

The burden of voter ID laws on rural residents

NPR ran this story a few days ago on new state laws requiring voters to show photos IDs when they vote.  Here's the lede:
A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that more than 10 million potential voters in states that require photo ID at the polls live more than 10 miles from offices that issue such ID.  Nearly 500,000 of these voters don't have access to a car or other vehicle.   
Many of these people presumably already have a photo ID, but for those who don't, the new laws pose a special challenge, according to the Brennan Center.
The NPR story, like a New York Times story in today's paper, focuses primarily on Pennsylvania because of its new voter ID law and a lawsuit that is challenging it.  But the NPR story, unlike the NYT story, also attends to the the particular challenge facing rural voters because they typically need to to travel greater distances to get to the places where they can get their IDs, such as motor vehicle registration offices.  Here's an excerpt that discusses the issue in relation to a U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit challenging a Texas ID law:
Witnesses told the court that some Texas voters would have to travel more than 100 miles each way to get to the nearest motor vehicle offices. 
But one author of the law, Republican state Rep. Brandon Creighton, says that doesn't mean anyone will be denied the right to vote.  "The fact is that, in rural areas, people choose to live in rural areas and they're accustomed to commutes," says Creighton.  
Whether it's for health care, shopping or going to a governmental office, he says long trips in Texas are a way of life.  "It may be an inconvenience for many of us.  But disenfranchised, I don't believe so, no," says Creighton.
Easy for Creighton to say from his vantage point in the urban sprawl of the greater Houston Metropolitan area.  Creighton represents the 16th House District, and his district office is in Conroe, Texas.

I have previously commented upon urban dismissiveness of the travel burdens facing rural residents when they seek to exercise constitutional rights.  Read more here.  One of my favorite quotes in the context of exercising the right to abortion is this one from a dissent by Judge Hamilton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in the 2000 decision in Greenville Women's Clinic v. Bryant:
While traveling seventy miles on secondary roads may be inconsequential to my brethren in the majority who live in the urban sprawl of Baltimore, as the district court below and I conclude, such is not to be so casually addressed and treated with cavil when considering the plight and effect on a woman in rural Beaufort County, South Carolina.  
Kudos to the Brennan Center for including an entire section in their report on the challenges facing rural voters in particular.

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