I had an eye opening experience at the South Carolina DMV today as Travis and I switched our licenses and registrations. We waited our turn, and when Travis was called to the desk he was surprised to initially be denied a license based on a lack of evidence of residency. We brought his passport, social security card, Maryland license, renter’s insurance bill, proof of vehicle insurance, county property tax bill, and receipt of paid property tax. They still said it was not enough. I happened to have a recent pay stub in my purse, so I was able to get my license right away (which we both needed to do in order to register our cars).
The woman who helped me was patient, and much more willing to give information than the man who helped Travis. While he left to go home and print our bank statement, she told me that they used to accept most forms of residency proof including residential leases, vehicle or renter’s insurance, any bill with your address, Medicaid and Medicare cards, and WIC cards. That all changed when South Carolina adopted the legislation to require photo identification at polling centers. She told me that she wished she could give everyone who could prove citizenship (birth certificate, social security card, or passport) a state issued ID, but can’t now. The only acceptable forms of proof of residency are now student tuition bills, military orders, home owner’s insurance bill, life insurance bill, a bank statement, a pay stub, or water bill. When I moved in Maryland, all I needed was a signed lease.
You need state issued photo identification to have a voice in local and national elections, but they are expensive and difficult to obtain now. If you don’t own a home, don’t have a stable or regular source of income, aren’t a student, aren’t in the military, don’t have life insurance, then you can’t get a state photo ID unless you print your bank statement or have a water bill in your name. How are you supposed to exercise your civic right and civic duty by voting if you don’t live with the luxuries of owning a home, having a steady job, having life insurance, having enough money to have a bank account in your name, and staying in one place long enough to have utilities in your name. How is this avenue of protecting against voter fraud contributing to the common good when it excludes the citizens it is supposed to be “protecting”? Is voter fraud as much of an issue as those who support the legislation claim? Is there a better way to combat the fears of voter fraud in a way that does not infringe on the right to vote?
It upset me. It made me angry. Across the US, many citizens don’t have access to these acceptable forms of proof of residency. And more so, it is usually poor and under educated people who don’t have access to these. Let’s be honest here – moving to the South has been eye opening in many ways, but one of the most obvious is the disparity between the haves and the have nots in terms of wealth and privilege. This is affecting residents of Columbia, of Richland county, of South Carolina, and of other states that now require photo identification to vote. It’s not just that they require ID to vote now, it is that they are making it more difficult for residents to prove that they have the right to access the polling stations and exercise the right to vote. It is systemic disenfranchisement.
My simple analysis is that the new state legislation does not contribute anything constructive to our communities. I know it is more complex than that, and I don’t have the expertise to develop the alternative solutions. And more so, it raises questions that I need to ask myself. How do I want to vote in order to support the people I share my city with? Am I doing enough to support those in need around me? What can I do better? How should I respond to this perception of injustice?