Jackson: Assessing the High Burdens Associated with Photo IDs | Janet Y Jackson

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Janet Y Jackson

A few years ago, while I was working in the Social Security Department, I received a call from a supervisor at the Missouri Department of Treasury. Apparently she had a gentleman in his 70s trying to renew his driver’s license who had a different year of birth than his social security file. She wanted to know if we – that’s the Social Security Administration – could change our records to match theirs so he could get a driver’s license.

No. A person’s date of birth is one of the factors used in calculating the person’s benefits. And if a person didn’t have a birth certificate, Social Services would have painstakingly determined their age using secondary sources. In all likelihood, this man lied when he first applied for a license. Many people did this to enroll their children in school, join the military, get a work or driver’s license, and, yes, even register to vote.

One of the reasons thousands of Texas voters had their mail-in ballots returned in the state’s recent primary was that their current identification information didn’t match their original voter records. Here in Missouri, our Republican lawmakers are once again adding roadblocks to the ballot box by offering bills that require photo ID. Enough.

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Yes, I’ve addressed that before. I don’t have a skin in this game, but this measure could affect many others if it goes through. And since our state legislatures refuse to ditch their superfluous playbook (even if voters or the judiciary have interfered), I have to comment again.

If you ask for additional requirements or documents like photo ID, fewer people will vote. That’s why it’s called voter suppression. You’re less likely to vote if you need to release work and/or hire a babysitter just to get photo ID.

My aunt Eva was born in Tennessee in 1912 and, like her parents and siblings, was only allowed to vote after she had moved away. She has never driven, traveled internationally, or had a job that required photo ID. She worked as a domestic worker for 60 years. Also, she never had a birth certificate.

When she applied for Social Security benefits in 1974, unlike today, photo ID would not have been required. Nor would she have needed one to open a bank account or set up a utility. For the last 10 years of her life she was housebound, leaving only by ambulance and voting absentee. Even their (non-concierge) doctors visited our house.

If she had gone to the driver’s license office to get a non-driver’s license (with the ambulance), the fact that she had no birth certificate would have prevented an ID card from being issued.

That’s right, the Missouri voter website indicates that the state will issue a free birth certificate so a person can get a free non-driver ID and will help secure birth certificates from other states so Missouri residents can choose – free of charge. Unfortunately, Tennessee (like many other states) still requires photo ID to obtain a birth certificate. Catch 22, anyone?

How many of our citizens know that these free offers exist? How many will find out about them too late to arrange their identification, should that become necessary? People who cast absentee ballots could be the most disenfranchised and less able to do the extra work required to vote. And when you are at home, how do you submit your ID to the election officials or obtain a notarized signature if necessary?

The Associated Press found only 475 cases of potential voter fraud in the six states, where thousands of allegations of fraud were made. So instead of inconveniencing our citizens by demanding photo ID, a better way to prevent petty voter fraud would be to update the voter database regularly and make it immediately available to poll workers at the polls. It would alert them if the person had already voted or was verifiably deceased.

At a minimum, the database should cross-check the state’s own death certificates, as well as the Missouri state pension system and all Department of Human Services databases. It then also needs access to every federal retiree database, including Medicare. Missourians should not need photo ID to vote. Republicans, let it be.

Janet Y Jackson is a Post-Dispatch columnist and a member of the editorial board.

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