Cartoon: How Could It Be Hard To Get Voter I.D.?

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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).


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.


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!

This cartoon on Patreon

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18 Responses to Cartoon: How Could It Be Hard To Get Voter I.D.?

  1. 1
    saucy turtles says:

    My son not only has a different name – and gender! – than on his birth certificate, but my name was entered incorrectly, and the fix for that, in the mid-90s, was done using a typewriter to strike through the incorrect name and type in my correct name. Someone then initialled and dated that correction. It’s been fodder for inside jokes for us over the years, but what do you think is the likelihood that the coming fascist regime will accept this as documentation for anything?

  2. 2
    Görkem says:

    I’m sure we can all agree that we’re eagerly awaiting RonF’s insightful comments on this post.

  3. 3
    Görkem says:

    “what do you think is the likelihood that the coming fascist regime will accept this as documentation for anything?”

    I mean if you’re a straight white man, I’d say the odds are pretty bloody good.

  4. 4
    Joe in Australia says:

    These are very real problems but they shouldn’t be. It’s crazy that confirming people’s identity is so frequently important for executing government business and yet there’s no simple and consistent way to do it. Here in Australia we typically have to prove our identity by producing documents such as a passport, birth certificate, driver’s license etc., with each document assigned a number of points. You need “100 points” for your identity to be proven. It’s good to have a formalised rather than arbitrary system, but the need for different documents shows that none of them is really considered to be adequate proof even though the government itself issued them.

    As for inconsistencies and name changes, I always urge people to solve documentation problems (if they can!) as early as possible because it can be hard or impossible to do it when there’s a crisis. Also, it’s often much cheaper to request multiple copies at the time a document is issued than at a later date. Having valid and unchallengeable documentation can literally be the difference between life and death for a refugee.

  5. 5
    Görkem says:

    @Joe: Australia isn’t a great system when it comes to identity proof either, 2bh.

    The obvious solution is a European-style universal ID card, but there is a very high political cost to introducing these in Anglo-Saxon countries.

    My European and Asian colleagues often express shock and disbelief when told there’s no such thing as an Australian ID card or a British ID card, but, there it is.

  6. 6
    RonF says:

    Actually, I accept all the first 3 panels as valid issues in requiring an ID to vote. IIRC the issues in panels 1 and 3 have been brought up before on this blog. But I view them as things to be fixed, not as reasons to invalidate Voter ID laws. I should think the ACLU, the SPLC or various other civil rights organizations could put pressure or even file lawsuits to force States or counties to provide temporary offices or mobile registration units in rural areas, lower fees (here in Illinois fees are lowered or even waived for people who are indigent, homeless, disabled, seniors, etc.), or to make some manner of accommodation for people with no official record of their birth.

    By no means do I discount that a failure in a State’s or county’s failure to do such things may well be based on either racism or partisanship. But my opinion is that the solution is to overcome those issues.

  7. 7
    RonF says:

    Joe, what complicates things in the U.S. is that the ID you use for most things in your life are issued by the State, not the Federal government, and each State sets its own requirements. The obvious exception is obtaining a passport for international travel, but apparently only about 1/3 of Americans have a valid passport. The key to a State ID is that while it establishes that the State has verified your identity, you can get one without being a citizen. After all, there’s no reason why a non-citizen who is legally in the U.S. should not be able to drive, buy alcohol, open a bank account, cash a check, etc. So unless a State ID has some kind of indication on it that differentiates a citizen from a non-citizen it would not be valid to establish that you are eligible to vote.

  8. 8
    Doug says:

    @7 seems to me that if that’s a known problem, then anyone introducing bills to require voter ID would have to also include provisions to supply those voter ID’s in ways that solve these common well known problems. FI they don’t, then they’re admitting pretty openly that it’s about suppression and not fraud prevention. in fact, many times they say outright that it’s about keeping the “wrong” people from voting. The burden of proof/solutions should be on the people who want to require ID. Not on rights groups.

    It feels incredibly disingenuous, to the point of willful ignorance, that you’d invoke organizations with goals that clearly don’t align with yours and ask them to solve problems created by political orgs you support. I’m a long time lurker and read the comments though, so I know it’s par for the course for Ron.

  9. 9
    Corso says:

    Following up on Ron’s comment, with which I basically agree, it seems from an outsider’s perspective that this is one of the situations where the reality of mainstream conservative opinion will not match the caricatured version held up as the progressive boogeyman.

    While I’m sure that everyone has a case or two in their arsenal of some petty tyrant of an official legitimately trying to keep people from voting, my expectation is that most Republicans are being honest when they say that they think elections should be fair, and ID is one of the checks of a healthy democracy…. They may not say it that well, but it is what it is. If the response to that was more often something like “let’s make getting an ID easier” as opposed to the reality of current discourse, you’d probably be pleasantly surprised by the outcome and generally better off.

  10. 10
    RonF says:

    what do you think is the likelihood that the coming fascist regime will accept this as documentation for anything?

    1. Well, hopefully the GOP will take Congress in 2022 and stop the progress towards fascism.
    2. A birth certificate with information crossed out and the change initialed? I’m astounded that it’s taken as legitimate by anyone now! I’m sure it’ll be a royal PITA but I’d get something a little more official. I did a check and here in extremely Democrat-run Illinois there’s no way that would be accepted. For example, to get your license or State ID card upgraded to a “Real ID” you would have to file a name change request and present both the original birth certificate and the approved name change request upon applying for the upgrade.

  11. 11
    Dianne says:

    Well, hopefully the GOP will take Congress in 2022 and stop the progress towards fascism.

    In what alternative reality is the party that is sponsoring voter suppression laws, the party of Trump, going to stop fascism? They’re openly endorsing it. (Yes, I know that your comment was intended to elicit this question, but I’m still wondering how anyone who has paid the slightest attention to the news can possibly think that the Republican party is not explicitly fascist. It’s practically their platform.)

  12. 12
    Dianne says:

    After all, there’s no reason why a non-citizen who is legally in the U.S. should not be able to drive, buy alcohol, open a bank account, cash a check, etc.

    I’ve done all that in countries where I’m a foreigner without having to get any specific ID from the country in question. I don’t absolutely know that the US will accept a foreign driver’s license or ID card as ID for driving, buying alcohol, etc, but I would assume it follows the free world in this regard. Therefore, where is the problem? The state can issue an ID that allows residents to vote and allow foreigners (or even out of staters if we’re talking about an ID issued on the state level of government rather than an ID issued by the state of the United States) to use appropriate ID issued by their government to drive, buy alcohol, etc.

  13. 13
    Görkem says:

    “my expectation is that most Republicans are being honest when they say that they think elections should be fair”

    Well that’s definitely… an expectation.

  14. 14
    Dianne says:

    The Republicans demonstrating their dedication to stopping the progress towards fascism. Or not.

    From: http://” rel=”nofollow”

    “The House also voted today on the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2022, which steps up the sharing of information about domestic terrorism among government departments and creates an interagency task force to analyze and combat white supremacist and neo-Nazi infiltration of the uniformed services and federal law enforcement agencies. The House passed the bill by a vote of 222 to 203. All the no votes came from Republicans; all the Democrats voted in favor. It now goes on to the Senate.”

  15. 15
    JaneDoh says:

    Where I currently live, there are huge number of things accepted as ID for voting. One of them is the voter card mailed to you + another form of ID. Things anyone with a house might have (like utility bills). If you don’t have any of that, another person with ID can vouch for you. I would agree that the main goal of voter ID laws was to establish identity if things like that were written in to the laws. Most of the newer voter ID laws act like a poll tax, requiring something expensive to prove ID.

    FWIW, I was shocked that our original birth certificates from the 70’s (which do in fact look like something someone printed up at home and wrote on) were accepted as ID. And not in the states we were born in. We had to pay $75-100 each to get “updated” versions to use abroad (I don’t live in the US anymore). One of our fancy new birth certificates is a photocopy of that random piece of handwritten paper on new fancy bureaucratic-style official looking paper. We fortunately already have passports, so we never have to rely on birth certificates to prove identity, but I can see how it would be a real problem for someone whose only form of “official” ID is an old birth certificate.

  16. 16
    Ampersand says:

    So unless a State ID has some kind of indication on it that differentiates a citizen from a non-citizen it would not be valid to establish that you are eligible to vote.

    That’s what voter rolls are for.

  17. 17
    Corso says:

    For what it’s worth, my experience is very similar to Jane’s, and I think it’s fair. Best option is a driver’s license, Next option is another form of government issued, photo ID (there’s a couple), next step is a voter card and two pieces of mail, next is affirmation (A friend says you are who you say you are and signs a paper to that extent).

    In fact, this last election, I had a heck of a time voting because I’d just moved, updated my driver’s license, and the temporary paper copy was not good enough. I didn’t have a different form of photo-ID, and while I did have my voter card, I was short a utility bill. I had a friend who could affirm, but didn’t end up needing to because I did a last ditch check at the post office and was lucky enough to have mail. Whole process took maybe a half hour more than usual, and I had no one but myself to blame.

  18. 18
    JaneDoh says:

    I should also say that where I live now we have universal health care for residents, which provides all eligible with a photo ID. That is another easy way to provide cheap photo ID for a huge percentage of eligible voters that the US loses out on.

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