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The War on Women Voting

Brentin Mock Apr 14, 2012

Voting rights “evangelist” Faye Anderson says advocates who’ve been protesting new state photo voter ID laws have it all wrong. When voting rights advocates prop up elderly voters who might be disenfranchised because they may not have the correct form of ID, or the necessary documents to obtain proper voting ID, these are the wrong avatars for the campaigns.

“Advocates have done themselves a disservice by bringing up these 80- and 90-year-old voters. Those are not the votes who are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws,” said Anderson in a phone interview. “As an advocate you want to influence public opinion and you’re not influencing them if you are putting up the faces of 80- and 90-year-old voters.”

Elderly voters losing out on voter participation is a very real thing, as evidenced recently in Wisconsin. But instead, she says advocates should be focused on voters who resemble her: A middle-aged New York transplant living in Philadelphia, who commutes up and down the East Coast, traveling without a driver’s license. Like many New Yorkers, Anderson doesn’t drive so she doesn’t need one. She recently obtained a non-driver’s photo identification from New York, and other than that she has a passport. It wasn’t easy getting a New York ID, Anderson told me, and she’s concerned chiefly with women like her who might also have troubles getting the ID they need to vote, especially if they’ve been recently married, divorced or if they’ve moved, all of which could lead to name and address mismatches on Election Day.

The new Pennsylvania photo voter ID law is “disenfranchising by design to make voters jump through all these hoops,” said Anderson. “It’s unreasonable that women, with all that’s going on in their lives, will then have time to sit down and Google ‘where do I get my birth certificate,’ ‘where do I find my marriage certificate,’ ‘where to find the closest social security office,’ the hours they’re open, how to get there, and once there do they have all the documents they need.”

Anderson was able to do it, but she is a long-time voting rights advocate, and is trained to know the answers to these questions. But there are many women who are ill-served by the new photo voter ID laws. A Brennan Center for Justice survey shows that ten percent of voting-age Americans don’t have ID with both current name and address on it — many of those are women whose last names change with marriages, and whose address might change due to separations, divorces or just trying to get away from an abusive spouse situation.

Rather than simply moan about these problems, though, Anderson decided to link up with some web developers to create the Cost of Freedom online application, which would give voters detailed information on where to find documents like birth and marriage certificates, where those offices are located, and how late they stay open.

There are a number of organizations that provide similar maps — the NAACP , the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, and the National Conference of State Legislatures to name a few. But Anderson said her application will be more user-friendly because voters can find information based off their zip code — a sort of Yelp! for voting-related locations.

While this application would serve all voters, she’s onto something when talking about how women will be the hardest affected by new voter ID laws. Much has been made about President Obama’s lop-sided 19-point lead over GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney with women voters. This sounds great until you start converting poll results into actual voter turnout. Many of the voter ID and registration laws passed by states over the last 18 months will take such a disproportionate toll on women that there should probably be an asterisk by any stat showing huge women voter margins for any candidate.

Romney might be on the losing side of the “war on women,” as Jamelle Bouie at American Prospect pointed out, but it may not matter if many women get flustered with new voting processes. There are too many reasons for women to get fired up for voting this fall. Given most women broke for Obama in 2008 and seem to be headed to do the same this year — with a lot of help from Republican misogyny — it makes sense that the party on the losing end of favorability would feel incentivized to place laws that would trip up women voters. Note that Republicans picked a fight with the League of Women Voters, among other voter rights groups, in Florida — arguably the most important state in any presidential election — when it passed a law that would scale back all voter registration activities.

The League of Women Voters have also joined lawsuits against voter ID laws in multiple states including South Carolina and Wisconsin, where they were successful in having a judge block the voter ID law just in time for the state’s primary.

When talking about women’s access to voting, and voting their interests, you have to discuss their ability to feed families and how the gutting of welfare impacts that ability. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan would like to gut even more of food and housing assistance. The primary beneficiaries of the welfare programs are women — with plenty of white women collecting those benefits. Low-income people of color normally vote Democrat, perhaps a reason why Republicans seem less sympathetic about the unlikeliness that they will have the kind of ID needed to vote in many states. But rural, poor white women who do vote Republican will figure into the voter ID transaction as well.

For some conservatives, though, it doesn’t matter the income level or the race — they just don’t want women voting. Conservative writer John Derbyshire, who was just fired from National Review magazine for a racist op-ed devoted a whole section in his book We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism to making reasons why women shouldn’t vote. In “The Case Against Female Suffrage,” Derbyshire recalls an ancient Athenian play “The Assemblywomen” about women disguised as men who take over a city — “The playwright grasped the essential point,” writes Derebyshire, “Women incline to socialism much more naturally than do men.”

Derbyshire further reasons:

“Given that feminization is going to mean socialization, the feminization of our society must be bad news for conservatives. Is feminization in fact happening? Oh yeah.”

Conservative writer Matthew Vadum recently chastised Derbyshire in a Tweet, calling the column Derbyshire was fired over “pretty horrific, racist,” and said in comments that he “wouldn’t want to be associated with this article.” But what Vadum has written about voting rights has been pretty horrific, if not racist. His diatribe against low-income citizens in American Thinker, he wrote that “Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery.” He hates the Motor Voter law passed in the 90s that allows people to register to vote when applying for a driver’s license or public benefits, and wrote that the law “opened the door to massive voter fraud.” Throughout the entire article he makes correlations between voter fraud and welfare fraud — both of which are myths of greater fiction than ancient Athenian plays.

But Vadum’s real point isn’t to point out fraud, but rather to show that welfare recipients — the grand majority of whom are women — aren’t deserving of the voting franchise, just as Derbyshire said in more direct language.

Anderson, an African-American woman, has seen this kind of contempt for low-income citizens not only from conservative white men like Derbyshire and Vadum, but also from otherwise privileged women.

“The subtext is that people without ID are irresponsible,” said Anderson. “For some of these middle-class moms, they are thinking ‘This voter ID issue is not about me, it’s about those low-income minorities, those irresponsible women.’”

Anderson tells me she’s even heard this from some black well-off women. But according to the Brennan Center, she reminds me, only 48% of voting-age women have ready access to a birth certificates that reflects their current legal name, and only 66% of voting-age women have proof of citizenship documents reflecting their current name.

“These women may be smug thinking [voter ID] is not about me, but they may be in for a rude awakening if they are part of that 34% of women who do not have official documents with their current name.”

Which is why Anderson is hoping to launch her Cost of Freedom application this year, so that people will know exactly where to go to find whatever document might be needed to make them eligible to vote. She understands that the new voter ID laws are unfair and burdensome, and that it might be part of a larger attack on women’s rights, but for now there’s nothing to do but roll with it and make sure everyone has what they need to get in the booth.

Said Anderson, “We want to minimize the number of voters who give up out of frustration.”

This article was originally published by Colorlines.

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