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I think my first official government ID was a passport at age fourteen or so, when my family took a trip to Italy. I didn’t arrange my own passport, of course – probably my mom took care of that.
At age fifteen I took driving lessons and got a learner’s permit, and I had parents and school to pay for and handhold me through that process.
Since then I’ve almost always had a passport and either a driver’s license or a state non-driver ID. And even when they lapsed, I’ve always been in a position to renew them when I needed to. Renewing is always easier than getting new.
(Although there was one time when I was broke and couldn’t renew without a copy of my birth certificate which I couldn’t afford at first and when I finally could it took months for New York to mail it to me.)
For someone like me, it can be hard to imagine why some people find it hard to get a government photo ID. It’s (almost) always been easy for me, right?
There are two ways to go from there. First is to actually do some research. Listen to the stories of people who have had trouble getting ID.
Alternatively, one could just assume that anyone who doesn’t have a photo ID is stupid and lazy. Which seems to be the favorite response on the right.
Warning: This post is going to be really long, because I want to paste in some of the quotes I found.
The big problem writing this cartoon, for me, was that real stories are messy and nuanced and don’t fit into a word balloon with room for 35 words at most. (And it’s better to use less words, since when readers see a big block of text many of them skim or skip).
For instance, I really wanted to include this story, from Samantha Adams, who has married twice and divorced once. When she moved to Indiana she found out she couldn’t get an ID without legal documentation, not just for her current name, but for each name change she’d been through.
I would have to provide a copy of my 1st marriage license, divorce papers and copy of my 2nd marriage license. Really? We just moved! Had no idea where to find the first two docs. She told me I’d have to request copies from the courts who have them. That’s not free or fast. […]
I worked with seniors. Think about little old ladies who don’t have drivers licenses. How could they possibly jump through all these hoops and get all these documents? What about poor folks? Copies of legal documents aren’t free. Voter ID laws do suppress votes. I get it now.
Researching this cartoon, I found a legal ruling, Veasey v. Perry, which documented stories from many Americans who had trouble getting ID in Texas.
One thing that you find, when you research this, is that a surprising number of people (especially older people) were never issued birth certificates. Quoting Texas Representative Martinez Fischer:
In our subcommittee, gosh, we went down to Brownsville and we took testimony on the very issue that you heard from Mr. Lara earlier, which was people—a lot of people, especially in rural areas or along the border who were birthed by midwives or were born on farms, didn’t have the requisite birth certificates and were in limbo.
A transgender woman named Stephanie Lynn Dees was in the process of legally changing her name – a process that can be opaque, expensive and slow. She worried about being turned away from the polls because “I don’t really match my photograph and you always get people who just don’t like transgender people….”
Transportation is a big issue:
Some of the Plaintiffs without SB 14 ID do not have the ability or the means to drive. Four of them—Ms. Clark, Mr. Gandy, Mr. Benjamin, and Mr. Taylor—rely almost exclusively on public transportation. The lack of personal transportation adds to both the time and the cost of collecting the underlying documents. Mr. Taylor, who was recently homeless, declared that he sometimes cannot afford a bus pass.
And for those who can afford the fare, like Mr. Gandy, it can take an hour to reach the nearest DPS office. Others, like Mr. Estrada and Mrs. Espinoza are forced to rely on the kindness of family and friends to move about town, much less for a 60–mile roundtrip ride to the nearest DPS station. Mr. Lara, who is nearing his eightieth birthday, testified that he has to ride his bicycle when he is unable to find a car ride.
As is cost. (Unsurprisingly, all of these barriers are more likely to come up for Black and Latin Americans – one reason the GOP is so eager to have voter ID required.)
Kristina Mora worked for a non-profit organization in Dallas, Texas, The Stew Pot, which assists the homeless who are trying to get a photo ID to obtain jobs or housing. She testified that her indigent clients regularly number 50 to 70 per day….
According to Ms. Mora, these clients confront four general barriers to getting necessary ID: (1) understanding and navigating the process; (2) financial hardship; (3) investment of time; and (4) facing DPS or any type of law enforcement The Stew Pot and CAM, exist in part, to help with the first barrier and to an extent, the second barrier. These two witnesses testified that it costs on average, $45.00 to $100.00 per person in document and transportation costs to get a photo ID.
It generally takes an individual two trips to obtain the necessary documents to get an ID. Many homeless individuals do not have a birth certificate or other underlying documents because they have nowhere to secure them and they get lost, stolen, or confiscated by police. Furthermore, most are not in communication with their families and cannot get assistance with any part of this process. Ms. Mora testified that it generally takes about one hour to get to DPS or the necessary office, one hour to stand in line and be served, and one hour to return to the shelter. This generally has to be done in the morning because homeless shelters have early afternoon curfews.
The $45.00 cost to obtain a Texas ID card is equivalent to what these clients would pay for a two-week stay in a shelter.
From a story reported by Sari Horwitz for The Washington Post:
In his wallet, Anthony Settles carries an expired Texas identification card, his Social Security card and an old student ID from the University of Houston, where he studied math and physics decades ago. What he does not have is the one thing that he needs to vote this presidential election: a current Texas photo ID.
For Settles to get one of those, his name has to match his birth certificate — and it doesn’t. In 1964, when he was 14, his mother married and changed his last name. After Texas passed a new voter-ID law, officials told Settles he had to show them his name-change certificate from 1964 to qualify for a new identification card to vote.
So with the help of several lawyers, Settles tried to find it, searching records in courthouses in the D.C. area, where he grew up. But they could not find it. To obtain a new document changing his name to the one he has used for 51 years, Settles has to go to court, a process that would cost him more than $250 — more than he is willing to pay….
After Texas implemented its new law, Randall went to the Department of Public Safety (the Texas agency that handles driver’s licenses and identification cards) three times to try to get a photo ID to vote. Each time Randall was told he needed different items. First, he was told he needed three forms of identification. He came back and brought his Medicaid card, bills and a current voter registration card from voting in past elections.
“I thought that because I was on record for voting, I could vote again,” Randall said.
But he was told he still needed more documentation, such as a certified copy of his birth certificate.
Records of births before 1950, such as Randall’s, are not on a central computer and are located only in the county clerk’s office where the person was born.
For Randall, that meant an hour-long drive to Huntsville, where his lawyers found a copy of his birth certificate.
But that wasn’t enough. With his birth certificate in hand, Randall went to the DPS office in Houston with all the necessary documents. But, DPS officials still would not issue him a photo ID because of a clerical mistake on his birth certificate. One letter was off in his last name — “Randell” instead of “Randall” — so his last name was spelled slightly different than on all his other documents.
And Voter ID laws, harmful as they are, are far from the only or even the worst anti-Democracy measures the GOP is pursuing.
Update: I changed panel 3. Here’s the original panel 3.
Someone pointed out to me that deliver drivers pretty much have to have a drivers license in order to get that job. D’oh!
And apparently I messed up when I wrote that a birth certificate costs $80 – in the more expensive states, it’s more like $30. Depending on the state, a driver’s license can cost up to $89. (I googled these costs in May 2022, of course they’ll change over time).
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has four panels, each showing a different scene. In addition, there’s a small “kicker” panel under the fourth panel.
The panel shows a counter at a fast food restaurant. We can see a couple of customers, and a couple of workers. The workers are wearing hats that very vaguely resemble hamburger buns. A sign on the wall shows a smiling hamburger with eyes, below the caption “Soilent Green YUM.” A smaller sign says “SAFETY” in larger letters followed by tiny print, which says “is a word we use a lot so you can’t sue us.”
The worker at the cash register is turning to speak directly to the reader.
WORKER: To get an official photo I.D., I have to go to the nearest government office, which is 90 miles away, and I don’t have a car, and even if I did my boss won’t give me a weekday off.
We’re in what looks like someone’s back yard. In the foreground is a garden, with some sort of plant being grown in tidy rows. An elderly woman is kneeling on the ground in front of the garden, wearing a floppy straw hat, an apron with a floral patter, and holding a trowel. She speaks directly to the reader.
WOMAN: I can’t get I.D. without a birth certificate. But when I was born home births didn’t get birth certificates.
A mover wearing jeans and a black tank top is carrying a sofa as he’s talking to the reader. (Presumably someone else is carrying the other end of the sofa, but that person is outside the panel border). It’s a little dark out, and this appears to be a residential area – he’s on a sidewalk, and there’s some grass and trees and an outdoor wall in the background.
MOVER: The state charges $60 for a driver’s license…. but first I’d need a copy of my birth certificate, which is $30. I can’t afford 90 dollars to vote!
This panel shows the interior of a coffee shop. There are round tables, a big window showing some houses across the street, and a mural of a smiling coffee mug on the wall. A man and a woman sit together at a table, with mugs of coffee on the table. He is reading from a tablet he’s holding and looking annoyed as he talks. She is looking at a laptop, and doesn’t look up as she responds.
MAN: Why wouldn’t anyone be able to get an I.D.? Idiots!
WOMAN: People like that don’t deserve to vote.
SMALL KICKER PANEL UNDER THE BOTTOM OF THE CARTOON
The man from panel 4 is yelling a bit at a drawing of Barry (the cartoonist).
MAN: If it’s easy for me it must be easy for everybody! That’s just science!