During the coronavirus pandemic, accessibility to the ballot for the 2020 presidential election increased dramatically and resulted in the largest voter turnout in U.S. history. With the utilization of mail-in absentee ballots and early voting access, more people of color, disabled individuals, the elderly, and individuals from low-income communities were able to vote than ever before. The increase in voter turnout, however, was threatening to a lot of conservative and Republican politicians, as those communities of individuals who benefitted from the accessibility of the ballot, (“minority” voters), had much higher chances of voting for Democratic candidates. Latinx voters in particular played a key role in Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election, as there was a 30.9% increase in the number of Latinx votes cast in the 2020 election compared to the 2016 election.
Because of this increase in voter representation, former President Trump began to claim that noncitizens were voting in U.S. elections and contributing to fraudulent and inaccurate election results. Of course, after much research, no evidence of fraud was found in both the 2016 and 2020 U.S. elections, and it was apparent that many politicians were making claims of illegal voting to further divide political parties. After these harmful accusations began surfacing in the Republican party, representatives began to encourage Voter ID laws, which would enforce stricter ID requirements at polling booths for voters. While arguing that these laws will uphold the integrity of U.S. elections, it will actually only disproportionately affect voters of color. Researchers found that in the 2016 election in Michigan, voters of color were between 2.5 and 6 times more likely as white voters to lack voter ID, and that 70% of the voters without an ID, who had to sign an affidavit, would have been Democratic primary voters. They also found that Latinx and black Americans were more likely to be asked for identification than white voters. As of May 14, 2021, 389 bills in 48 states with restrictive provisions have been introduced, a majority of which have been proposed and backed by Republican senators.
These laws requiring specific government issued identification to vote are harmful because it is not easy to obtain these ID’s for many people. 11% of U.S. citizens – or more than 21 million Americans – do not have government-issued photo identification. They also cost time and money in order to obtain, as well as issues with transportation to apply for and get the documents. Voter turnout will also be affected negatively by these proposed bills; a 2014 study found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by 2-3 percentage points, which can translate into tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.
Voter ID laws are a direct threat to our democracy and could drastically change the ability for immigrants and people of color to vote in the United States. Congress should work to ensure that these strict Voter ID laws are not passed, and accessibility to the ballot is upheld so that marginalized voters who may not have the ability to obtain proper forms of identification, transportation, and the financial means to vote under these harmful laws can participate in the selection of who represents them in the country they reside in. Not only should states issue driver’s licenses to all eligible individuals, regardless of immigration status, but a requirement of citizenship and government identification status should not be a requirement to vote, just as it is not a requirement to participate in the U.S. Census and other forms of political participation.