Five reasons voter identification bills disproportionately impact women

November 5, 2013

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis (D) had to sign an affidavit to vote because her driver’s license didn’t match her voting record (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Rodolfo Gonzalez)

Voting-rights advocates are pushing a new line of attack on laws that require voters to show identification at the polls: The laws, they say, disproportionately impact women.

There’s anecdotal evidence in Texas, where state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) was among those who had to sign an affidavit before casting her ballot because her voter record didn’t include her middle name (Davis’s likely general election opponent in her bid for governor, Attorney General Greg Abbott, also had to sign an affidavit).

There is also statistical evidence that women are more likely than men to not have valid identification at the polls. That’s because women make up larger shares of just about every one of the sub-groups that are least likely to have a current, valid identification. Here are the groups most likely to be impacted:

The Poor: More than 1 million voters who fall below the poverty line live more than 10 miles away from their nearest identification-issuing office, according to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice. The cost of birth certificates, often required to obtain identification, and the IDs themselves can be a burden; having to travel, and perhaps miss work, is another hurdle to getting an ID. And according to Census data compiled by the National Women’s Law Center, women are more likely to live in poverty than men. The poverty rate among adult women over 18 was 14.6 percent in 2011, compared with 10.9 percent of men.

Seniors: The AARP says as many as one in five seniors lacks a current government-issued photo identification. In 2006, as many as 8 million people over the age of 65 didn’t have an identification, and the older they get, the less likely they are to have a driver’s license. And women live longer than men: The life expectancy at birth for men in the United States is 76.2 years, while women can expect to live for 81.2 years. The Census Bureau estimated the 65-and-over population at 24.3 million women and just 18.8 million men.

The Married, and the Divorced: About 90 percent of women change their names when they get married, and many change their names back if they get divorced. The rate of women who keep their maiden names may actually be falling, according to Harvard economist Claudia Goldin. A Brennan Center survey found just 48 percent of voting-age women have easy access to their birth certificates, and 66 percent of those women have access to proof of citizenship with their current legal names.

Students: Students who attend out-of-state schools often don’t bother to get a driver’s license in their new state, while students who stick closer to home still have to either sign up for an absentee ballot or head home to vote in person. The Census Bureau showed women are more likely to be enrolled in college — there are 10.9 female students in American colleges, compared with 8.8 million men.

All Voters: Women tend to vote more than men, period. Women have made up a larger share of the electorate than men in recent years — 53 percent to 47 percent in 2012, for example — across racial and ethnic lines. So, if voter identification laws are going to erect hurdles for a broad range of those casting ballots, women as a whole are going to be impacted more.

Democrats and voting-rights advocates haven’t used the women angle in lawsuits challenging voter identification laws. Most lawsuits, like the one challenging a Wisconsin law that began Monday, focus on the disproportionate impact on minorities, the elderly and the poor. But watch for those groups to cast election reform laws as the latest front in the war on women.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson · November 5, 2013