About 20 million voting-age citizens in our country right now are without driver’s licenses. In Indiana, 12 nuns were turned away from voting booths during the 2008 presidential primary because they lacked state identification. ID regulations like these draw attention to the growing ID divide between those who have identification, and those who do not—primarily immigrants, minorities, students, the poor, disabled persons, and the elderly.
The number of ID checks has risen sharply in recent years, but our elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels are divided about what to do about it. These divisions are most visible in the recent debate about REAL ID—legislation that passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bush, which imposes strict security, authentication, and issuance standards for state driver’s licenses and ID cards.
Proponents of REAL ID and similar legislation at the local level want stricter identification systems mainly to fight terrorism and limit immigration. For security, privacy, and civil liberties reasons, others are skeptical of programs that require proof of ID.
But it’s not just immigrants and minorities who are negatively affected. The legally blind or disabled, older Americans who no longer drive, teenagers who can’t afford the cost of acquiring a driver’s license, poor families without the means to afford the costs associated with maintaining a driver’s license, and the millions living in cities with public mass transit systems who do not have cars are also on the wrong side of the ID divide.
What is needed is a process of careful vetting and due diligence to ensure that all people are treated fairly and equally and that identification systems take into consideration the effects on society as a whole. All U.S. citizens should be able to exercise their right to vote. But until a due diligence process is established to address recurring problems with the current and proposed identification programs, make sure you are carrying a government-issued ID on you at all times.