The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law | Think Getting “Free” ID Is Easy? Think Again!

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Think Getting “Free” ID Is Easy? Think Again!

Proponents of government-issued photo ID laws say it’s simple to get “free” identification to exercise our most fundamental right.  During an interview, Republican Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who signed into law voter ID requirements for Tennessee, stated he has hesitations with the new law because it will make it "unnecessarily hard" for some people in his state to vote.

"Given human nature, people tend not to address things until the last minute sometimes," Haslam said."I'm concerned about that last minute, when seniors say, 'I really want to vote, I want to vote at the polling place, I don't want to vote absentee.  Oh, I need to get a photo ID! ... and I'm concerned about the waiting time [at driver's licensing stations]."

We've heard about people across the country struggling to obtain IDs in states with new government-issued photo ID requirements. Below you will find the stories we've collected from a diverse group of hardworking Americans.  

If you live in a state that requires government-issued ID to vote and have questions about what is needed to get a free ID, check out our Voter ID Toolkits.

Indiana

Angela Hiss

Notre Dame University student Angela Hiss was barred from voting in Indiana because her Illinois driver's license was not accepted as proof of identification.  Thousands of students like Angela will have difficulty voting in the next election because of repressive voter ID laws.  Read more

Nuns from St. Mary's Convent

In 2008, twelve nuns from St. Mary's Convent were prevented from casting ballots because they did not have government-issued photo ID. This was the first election voters were required to present ID after Indiana passed its stringent voter ID law.  requiring voters to present valid government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to cast a ballot. Read more

Edward and Mary Weidenbener

Edward and Mary are a married couple in their late 80s, living in Indiana. They went to vote in the presidential primary in May 2012, unaware that Indiana had passed a new law requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. Because they did not have the required ID, and were not informed in time to obtain such ID, they were given provisional ballots. Unfortunately, those provisional ballots were never counted, because the Weidenbeners were never informed that they had to follow up with the county election board to submit identification after they voted. Read more

Pennsylvania

Wiola Lee

Wiola Lee, 59, was born in rural Georgia and moved to Philadelphia in her early youth to live with her grandmother. Ms. Lee worked for the Philadelphia Public Schools, including special needs children. She has voted for well over 30 years and has been civically active, volunteering as a poll worker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. With the new voter ID laws, Ms. Lee is trying to access her birth certificate which she will need in order to obtain a photo ID, but the state of Georgia has no record of her birth. Without a photo ID, Ms. Lee will not be able to vote. Read more

Barbara Decoursey

Ms. Decoursey, 79 takes voting seriously. She has been voting in every election since Harry S. Truman ran for president, served as an election judge, and has made sure her children and grandchildren are registered and vote. She was born by midwife in North Carolina and has no birth certificate which is needed to get a photo ID in Pennsylvania. Read more

Bea Bookler

Bea Bookler has voted in every election since 1940 but now 72 years later she may not be able to cast what she believes might be her last vote. At 93 years old, Ms. Bookler lives at an assisted living facility in Chester County, no longer posseses photo ID and does not have her birth certificate to obtain ID. Read More

Devra Mirel ("Asher") Schor

Mr. Schor is a 22 year-old transgender man (female to male) registered voter in Pennsylvania who was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He works as a paralegal for a public interest law firm that provides civil rights assistance to Pennsylvania prisoners. Mr. Schor expects to formally change his name and gender identity after the transitioning process is further along, which will not be before the November election. Although he has two forms of photo ID acceptable under the new voter photo ID law - a current passport and driver's license - in both he looks like a woman and is identified as "female," but looks and presents like a man. Mr. Schor has a very real and legitimate concern that poll workers will refuse to allow him to vote on election day in November when the person in his ID photos looks so different from the person who comes to vote. Read more

Dorothy Barksdale

Dorothy Barksdale was born at home by a midwife in rural Halifax County, Virginia in 1926. She and her niece have tried unsuccessfully for three years to obtain a birth certificate from the State of Virginia and was recently told that they have no record of her birth. Dorothy's niece called into 1-866-OUR-VOTE after learning about the new photo ID requirement in order to vote, looking for assistance on how to get an ID. Ms. Barkdale started working as a poll worker in Philadelphia shortly after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and now may not be able to vote in November. Read more

Gloria Cuttino

Gloria who is 61 was born in Summerville, South Carolina and moved to Philadelphia at a young age. Ms. Cuttino's mother died when she was sixteen, leaving Ms. Cuttino alone to care for her three younger brothers and sisters. Ms. Cuttino raised four children of her own, one of whom is a Philadelphia police officer. Prior to the photo ID law going into affect she has been trying to get her birth certificate from South Carolina and has told her they have no birth record. Through the help of a pro bono lawyer, she learned that the only way to now get a "delayed" birth certificate is to seek census and other records, which will cost approximately $100, and as well as hire an attorney in South Carolina to petition the court. Ms. Cuttino will not be able to vote in November.

Listen to Ms. Cuttino talk about what voting means to her.

 

Joyce Block

After learning about Pennsylvania's new photo ID requirement, Ms. Block who hasn't missed an election in 70 years, went to her local PennDOT office so she could obtain her free ID. Despite having all the documentation listed on the Department of State checklist, her application was rejected because the PennDot worker couldn't read her Hebrew marriage license and the deed to her home and Pepco bill had her married name, not her maiden name. Ms. Block takes her right to vote so seriously that in 2010 she had her granddaughter take her from the hospital in a wheelchair because she couldn't obtain an absentee ballot.  Read more

Sherry Skramstad

Sherry Skramstad is a 70-year old retired teacher and author, and she has been voting since she became eligible in the 1960s. Even though she has a valid driver's license from New York, she can't get a Pennsylvania license because her birth certificate doesn't match her married name, although it's been her name for over 30 years. A Department of Transportation spokesperson claims that Sherry should have been notified of "exception processing," but that message didn't make it to her until after multiple calls to the Governor, the Office of Aging, both Pennsylvania U.S. Senators, and the U. S.-Mexican consulate, and eventually, media outlets. Under the old law, Sherry would have been able to use a utility bill, or a bank statement to demonstrate her identity at the polls. Read more

Louise Furness

Louise who is 96 does not have a driver's license, which is an approved form of ID and no longer drives making it difficult for her to visit the DMV in order to get the photo ID. Like Ms. Decoursey she was born to a midwife in North Carolina and does not possess the birth certificate need to obtain an voter ID card. Many seniors like Ms. Furness now face the difficult task of finding the documents in order to get photo ID in order to vote.

Viviette Applewhite

Ms. Applewhite is was born in 1919 in Philadelphia--a  year before women gained the right to vote. Ms. Applewhite worked as a welder during World War II and has voted in almost every election since 1960. Ms. Applewhite marched to support civil rights for African-Americans with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Macon, Georgia, and traveled on several occasions to hear him preach in Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. Ms. Applewhite does not have and has been unable to obtain photo identification required by Pennsylvania's voter photo ID law and will be unable to cast a ballot this November.

Listen to her story:

South Carolina

Amanda Wolf

Amanda Wolf used to be able to vote using her student ID card.  Under South Carolina’s new voter ID requirements, however, Amanda has had to wait 6 months to even get the paperwork necessary for her to apply for an acceptable form of ID to allow her to vote.  Adopted in Georgia, Amanda’s name was different on her birth certificate, which also included the names of her birth parents.  When Amanda went to Vital Records to ask for a change, she found out that they would only accept a major credit card, which she didn’t have.  Finally, after 6 months and with the help of a judge, she was able to get her new birth certificate and apply for an ID. Read more

Delores Freelan

59-year-old Delores Freelan of South Carolina lives on disability, and cannot afford to petition her home state of California to change her name and fix an error on her birth certificate.  Without a valid birth certificate, she cannot get a photo ID to vote.  Read more

Donna Suggs

Donna Suggs, born by midwife, does not have a birth certificate.  Because her birth was never reported, Donna could not get the necessary birth certificate to apply for an ID to vote.  Only after an attorney stepped in to help was Donna able to successfully get her free ID. Read more

Larrie Butler

Larrie Butler, born and raised in South Carolina, is 85 years old.  Denied a new driver’s license because he doesn’t have a birth certificate, Larrie went to vital records to get one and was told he’d need to provide his school and out-of-state driving records.  When he returned with the documents, Larrie was told he had failed to prove his identity because he could not get his elementary school records, as the school had since closed.  He was then told that he could only get a birth certificate if he paid to get his name changed.

Watch the video below for Larrie's own account of the incident

Willie Blair

Willie Blair, a 61-year-old sharecropper from Sumter, South Carolina has never been to school and cannot read.  His name, given to him by his stepfather, does not match the name on his birth certificate, meaning he cannot use the certificate to get a photo ID to vote.  Read more

Tennessee

Al Star

A homeless man was initially denied a free state voter ID he requested to replace his lost driver's license. After being turned away at the Department of Safety, he contacted his US Representative and eventually received his free ID. Read more

Clifford Glass

Mr. Glass has been voting since 1960 and no longer has a driver's license because of an automoblie accident twelve years ago that prevents him from driving. He is an Air Force veteran but his VA card is not one of the approved forms of photo ID in Tennessee.

Listen to Clifford's story below.

Darwin Spinks

86-year-old Darwin Spinks, who served in World War II and Korea, had to pay for a "free" Tennessee voting ID.  Read more

Dorothy Cooper

96-year-old Dorothy Cooper of Tennessee could not get a free voter ID because she could not produce her marriage license.  Ms. Cooper presented a birth certificate, a rent receipt and a voter registration card, but was still denied the ID.  Now, for the first time since the 1960s, she may not be able to vote. Read more

Lee and Phyllis Campbell

Lee and Phyllis Campbell, a retired couple from Tennessee, were asked to pay for a new license because the free IDs involve "too much paperwork."  Mr. and Mrs. Campbell testified before members of the House Judiciary Committee about their ordeal.  Read more

Marie Crittenden

92-year-old Marie of Etowah, Tennessee has consistently voted since 1948.  However, with the passage of new voter ID requirements, Marie almost couldn’t vote.  After being misinformed about the necessary identification and paperwork numerous times, Marie could only vote due to the determined aid of her niece, who convinced the election commission to use common sense and allow Marie to cast her ballot. Read more

Thelma Mitchell

For 30 years Thelma Mitchell cleaned the Tennessee state capitol, including the governor's office. Now the 93-year-old won’t be able to vote for the first time in decades after being told that her old state ID failed the new voter ID regulations and cannot produce a birth certificate. Read more

Virginia Lasater

91-year-old Virginia Lasater of Murfreesboro, Tennessee could not get a voter ID because, with 100 people ahead of her and no chairs, she could not physically wait at the DMV.  Ms. Lasater has been voting and working on campaigns for more than 40 years, and now may be denied her right to vote.  Read more

Texas

Mother of Texas State Rep. Trey Martinez Fisher

Rep. Martinez Fisher's 73-year-old mother will likely not be about to vote in the upcoming elections because she does not possess photo ID. She suffers from Parkinson's and has no driver's lecense, passport or concelad handgun license--the accepted forms of photo ID under Texas' new law. Read more

José Zuniga

José, an 83-year-old wheelchair user who lives in El Cienzo, Texas, spends the vast majority of his time at home – but he makes it out each year for Election Day. If photo ID requirements are enacted in Texas, though, Jose may be unable to continue to vote. Zuniga, who does not drive, would need to take two or three buses to get to the closest Department of Public Safety office – about 20 miles away – to get a personal identification card. Even if he makes it to the DPS office, Zuniga could face discrimination or harassment when trying to receive an ID. Read more

Juan José López Jr.

Juan, a 34-year-old Texas resident, is one of three solid waste sanitation workers in the small city of El Cienzo. While he used to have a Department of Public Safety-issued ID that would allow him to vote under a photo ID law, he has since lost that ID. Attempting to replace the identification card, though, has proved a larger hassle than he expected. In order to get a new ID, he needed documents to prove his identity and residence – like school records. At the same time, he needed ID to get access to his school records. Caught in a vicious catch-22 of identification, Juan has – for the time being – given up on obtaining ID. Dealing with the run-around of getting ID would require him to take time off work – something he cannot afford. Read more

Encarnación Vasquez

Encarnación has always used his voter registration card to vote. At age 84, he no longer has a driver’s license. Vasquez, who is well-known in the small city of Rio Bravo, had hoped that knowing the poll workers would vouch for his identity, but without photo ID, he may not be able to vote – even with his registration card. Read more

Wisconsin

Anthony Sharp

19-year-old African-American Milwaukee resident does not have any of the accepted forms of photo ID under the law and does not have the income to afford the $20 certified copy of his birth certificate in order to vote. Read more

Bettye Jones

Bettye Jones is 76 years old and has voted in every election since 1959.  Active in the Civil Rights movement, she fought for her right to vote and never dreamed it could be taken away.  Bettye’s mother gave birth to her in a time when African Americans in the South could not get hospital care, meaning that Bettye was born at home.  No birth certificate was ever filed to record her birth.  However, Bettye has a current and valid Ohio driver’s license and had never had any problems voting until she moved to Wisconsin.  Here, Bettye found that she will be denied the right to vote.  With no birth certificate on file, she cannot get the ID that Wisconsin requires to cast a ballot; the state’s law will also not allow her to use her out of state driver’s license to prove her identity.  Read more

Carl Ellis

Carl is a U.S. Army veteran living in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. His only photo ID is a veteran ID card, which is not accepted under the law. Read more

Chris Larsen

Wisconsin Department of Safety worker Chris Larsen was fired after encouraging his co-workers to inform citizens that IDs are free for the purposes of voting.  To save money, Wisconsonites will only receive ID cards for free if they know on their own that they need to check a box on their application, otherwise they will be charged.  Read more

Florence Hessing

96-year-old Florence is disabled and rarely leaves her home, voting by absentee ballot.  After writing to the state asking how to get a photo ID under Wisconsin’s new government-issued photo ID law, she was told it would cost her $28, even though Wisconsin ID cards are supposed to be free.  To even apply for the ID, Florence needed a birth certificate, of which her natal state of Iowa told her they had no official record.  Read more

Gil Paar

Mr. Paar who served in the military for four years was not allowed to vote because his Veteran's card, which is issued by the United State Department of Veterans Affairs and contains both his photo and address is not one of the approved forms of government-issued photo ID under Wisconsin's new voter ID law. Despite having a driver's license that would have allowed him to vote, Mr. Paar refused because a VA card is the only form of photo ID that many veterans have. Read more

JoAnne Balthazor and Jeannie Vasen

69-year-old JoAnne Balthazor of Wisconsin waited at the DMV for almost 2 hours to receive her free ID for voting.  Jeannie Vasen, 43, didn't have enough money with her to get a replacement ID, and ended up leaving without getting her ID after Wisconsin DMV workers failed to inform her the ID was free. She later returned and got her free ID. Read more  

Lauren Ehlers

A student at UW-Madison, Lauren Ehlers had registered to vote two months before the election.  However, when she arrived to the polls at 7 a.m. so she could vote before work, Lauren was turned away because her name was not on the rolls.  She had to return to the same polling place later in the day to provide a document to proving her address of residence just so she could cast a ballot. Read more

Marge Curtin         

62-year-old Marge Curtin has lived and voted in the same area for 40 years.  Although her name and address were listed on the rolls and the poll workers, including her friend of over 40 years, knew and recognized her, Marge was not allowed to vote because she didn’t have a photo ID.  Recently injured in a car accident, Marge said she didn’t think she’d be able to make the long trip to the DMV to get an ID and went to vote at the polls anyway, as she always does.  Unfortunately, here she discovered that she was barred from voting despite her unquestionable identity. Read more

Rita Platt and John Wolfe

On a day off from work, Rita and John drove 45 minutes to a DMV to get Wisconsin driver's licenses so they could vote in the upcoming election.  However, when they arrived shortly after the DMV had opened, they were told that the computers were down.  The couple decided to fill out the necessary paperwork, in the hopes that the computers would be up and running by the time they'd gone through the approval steps. 

After presenting a current Iowa driver's license, social security card, bank statement, and pay stub, John was denied an ID and told he hadn't proven his identity.  Rita was told that neither her expired Iowa driver's license nor pay stub from the state qualified as proof of identification and that she'd need to pay for a certified birth certificate or bring a US passport to be approved.  Even though Rita had previously had a Wisconsin driver's license and the worker could still find her in the system, Rita was informed that she could not get a license or even a voter ID.  Read more

Ruthelle Frank

Ruthelle is an 84-year-old elected official and has served on her village board since 1996, who without a birth certificate cannot obtain an ID needed to vote under Wisconsin law. Read more

Ruthelle explains the difficulty she faces in trying to obtain photo ID:

Unidentified Woman

A 63 year old woman and her 87 year old mother were turned away from polls in Wisconsin for not presenting photo ID despite a Wisconsin judge ruling the law unconsitutional, which suspended implementation of the program. Because of confusion surrounding the law many voters were asked to present ID at the polls for the April 3rd Wisconsin primary. The woman was able to contact GAB and eventually cast a ballot. Read more

What's your story? Tell us how voter ID laws have affected you!

Learn more about the voter laws in your state by visiting the Interactive Map of Shame!

View the Animated Map of Shame to see just how quickly many states rushed to pass government-issued photo ID laws without considering the consequences.

Practical Progressive - Official Selection 2008