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How photo ID laws hurt real people

Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old African-American woman from Chattanooga, Tennessee, had never encountered a problem attempting to vote—not even, she says, in the years before the 1965 Voting Rights Act became law.

Born in the years before women had the right to vote, she cast her first ballot in her 20s and missed only one election—1960—due to a move.

So when she learned that a new Tennessee law, pushed through by state Republicans, would require her to present a photo ID to vote in the 2012 election, she diligently made plans to get a ride over to the state Driver Service Center to get a free ID. In 96 years, she'd never needed one before.

When she got there, despite presenting a rent receipt, a copy of her lease, her voter registration card, and her birth certificate, Cooper was denied a photo ID of her own.

The reason? She didn't have her marriage certificate.

"I don't know what difference it makes," she says.

Neither do we. But this is the kind of story we're going to hear again and again over the next year, because Cooper's story is just the latest outrageous example of recent legislation, passed by Republican statehouses and governors, creating barriers to voting. More than 38 states have introduced voting legislation, and 12 states have already approved new obstacles like photo ID laws and the repeal of same-day registration.

It's voters like Cooper who are overwhelmingly affected: the elderly, African Americans, young people, poor people. Rolling Stone recently reported that more than 10 percent of American citizens lack necessary identification, but among the traditional Democratic voting blocs, the numbers are much higher: 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African Americans.

Read the full story at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and learn more about the cost of photo ID laws from our Voting Rights Institute.