New Voter-ID Laws Target Women

In the last few years, Georgia and Indiana have instated overly strict voter-ID laws. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana's law, which required voters to present valid photo identification at the polls, finding it to be of legitimate state interest in preventing voter fraud. Five more states are now following suit.

Voter ID laws don't really catch voter fraud, however, because voter fraud is a fictional problem -- it rarely happens and the kind of fraud these laws are supposedly meant to prevent don't have a tangible effect on elections anyway. Instead of combating a problem, voter-ID laws create one by disenfranchising minorities, the poor, students, and the elderly. And thanks to a new spate of extra-rigorous voter-ID laws aimed at disenfranchising Democratic voters, women's ability to vote will be affected too.

Kansas and Wisconsin have taken up strict photo-ID laws modeled on Georgia's and Indiana's, where voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government in order to cast their ballots. Three states with laws that required identification but no photograph -- South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas -- changed their laws to require photo IDs and made them even stricter by giving voters rigid deadlines of two to six business days after the election to produce necessary documents. Otherwise, their provisional ballots will not be counted.

Here's where women get stuck. American women change their names in about 90 percent of marriages and divorces. So newly married and recently divorced women whose legal names do not match those of their current photo ID will face opposition when voting, especially in the seven states with the stricter voter-ID rules. They cannot provide personal information like a birthday or take an oath swearing to their identity in lieu of showing a photo ID. Instead, they will have to fill out substitute ballots and later return with valid documentation like a certified court document showing a divorce decree or marriage license.

Since only 66 percent of voting-age women have easy access to proof of citizenship and documentation with their current legal name, a significant number of women could be disenfranchised by the new laws.

By February 2012, these stricter laws will be in effect in seven states, just in time for the spring primaries.