Pollworkers verifying voters at polling place in Los Angeles County (Flickr: andysternberg)
The issue of voter suppression has been gaining increasing media coverage as we approach Tuesday’s 2012 election. One hot button issue has been the requirement that voters have official identification in order to vote. 30 states now have those requirements, although the largest state, California, does not.
“Happily, California does not have a voter i.d. law,” said Kathleen Unger, a native Californian who runs VoteRiders, an organization that supports national and local groups that are helping voters obtain their identifications.
“A lot of people who live modest lives, don’t drive and have no official identification,” said Unger, a well known Los Angeles attorney who has been working on this issue for over a decade. “But they are perfectly eligible to vote.”
VoteRiders, which is a non-partisan non-profit, expects to have a busy day on Tuesday where they will be serving as a primary resource to the media and the public and compiling in real time what is happening around the country on the voter identification issue.
“This trend of demanding voter identification is growing around the country,” she said,”In some states the requirements are excessively restrictive which disproportionately impact the elderly, voting-age children going to school in another state, disabled and low-income populations.”
Unger estimates that upwards of 20 million eligible voting age Americans don’t have legal identification.
“Just because they do not have an acceptable ID, they shouldn’t be denied their right to vote,” said Unger. “In some states, the hoops they have to jump through to obtain an official i.d. are expensive and complicated.”
This trend of demanding voter ID is in direct contrast to what is happening in California where the adoption of online voter registration this fall has resulted in an increase of one million newly registered voters in the Golden State. 18.2 million Californians are registered to vote on Tuesday.
How many of them will actually turnout is the topic of this column by long-time California commentator, Dan Walters. But for advocates like State Senator Leland Yee and organizations like California Forward, the big increase in registration is another good step forward for citizen participation.
“While other states are looking at suppressing voter participation, California is doing the opposite,” Yee told the Associated Press. “We have continued to be careful about voter fraud, but we don’t let it hinder us in encouraging voter participation.”
Absentee voting in California has been brisk, where it’s estimated that half the voters have been issued a mail-in ballot as more voters decide to vote by mail rather than trek to the polls.
“We want to remind those Californians who have absentee ballots but haven’t yet mailed them to take them to a polling place and drop them off. Remember that if your ballots don’t arrive before 8pm Tuesday, they cannot be counted,” said Caroline Bruister, project director at California Forward.
On a related topic, California Forward’s Alexandra Bjerg wrote a story last week about the improved voting technology that is improving voter integrity in California.
While Californians flock to the polls, Unger and her group will be working to help eligible voters around the country cast their ballots on Tuesday.
“So many states are restrictive. I’m so happy that California is not one of them,” added Unger.