This May Be America But Don’t Automatically Assume You Can Vote

Donna Anderson

This is still America and everyone has the Constitutional right to cast their vote on Election Day but only 20 states will allow you to cast your vote without providing at least minimal identification, and most of them are working toward rectifying that situation even as we speak.

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6, 2012, and the last day to register to vote is Tuesday, October 9. With most states enacting stricter voter registration laws, it’s imperative that you make sure you’re registered as early as possible to allow time to gather up the necessary documents.

If you believe you’re already registered, think again. Almost every state in the Union has either changed their registration requirements or they have some type of voter registration legislation pending. If you’re planning to step up to the poll and make a difference with your vote, then you need to make sure your vote will be counted.

The single most important requirement across all states requiring voter ID is a state issued photo ID. That’s not to say that a photo ID is the only requirement, so again, don’t assume anything. To find out the exact voting requirements in your state visit the National Conference of State Legislatures website.

For the average American it would seem easy enough to get a driver’s license or some other form of photo ID that would be acceptable. But as Melissa Harris-Perry of MSNBC pointed out in her program on September 22, it’s not as easy as you might think.

According to Harris-Perry, restricted voting laws make it difficult for people of certain groups to qualify. The elderly, disabled, people of color, and students, in particular, are the groups least likely to have government issued ID. But in many cases, “Laws requiring a voter’s legal name to match the name on their photo ID could pose a problem at the polls for women who’ve changed their name through marriage or divorce. Women face considerable barriers to even getting a valid ID.”

Recent legislation passed in Pennsylvania makes it even tougher for women to vote. According to Harris-Perry, if you’re a man it’s easy. If your name is Joseph E. Voter your name can show up as Joe or J or Earl and that’s acceptable. But if you’re a woman, you need to provide proof using your legal name.

In the U.S. women change their name in 90% of marriages and divorces. Additionally, 52% of women age 18 and over don’t have their legal name on the birth certificate, and 34% of voting age women don’t have proof of citizenship under their legal name. An alarming 34% of voting age women with access to proof of citizenship have no documents with their current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million women without these documents will not be able to vote.

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