Sustainable transportation advocates may read news headlines about new voter ID laws, roll their eyes at the prejudices of red-state legislators, and turn the page — at their own peril. This seemingly unrelated issue may have far-reaching consequences for transportation policy. New state laws mandating photo ID for voters threaten to disenfranchise nondrivers, and the skewed elections that would result could lead to political control by forces hostile to transit, cities, and even Safe Routes to Schools.
A report issued in early July by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law [PDF] spells out how the strictest new laws in ten states* discriminate against nondrivers.
The first, and most obvious, way is that drivers have a driver’s license, which can function as the required photo ID. That leaves nondrivers as prime targets of voter ID laws.
Eleven percent of eligible voters lack the necessary ID, and, as the table above illustrates, nearly half a million people in the 10 affected states both lack access to a vehicle and live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing government office.
To make matters worse, many of the same states now requiring photo ID for voting also fail to support transit. The report brings home the reality for the targeted voters:
Voter ID laws are especially burdensome for citizens in high-poverty areas. Not only are these eligible voters among the least likely to have photo ID, they are also among the least likely to have access to government services, such as public transportation… Citizens with limited vehicle access will be highly dependent on public transportation to obtain the ID necessary for voting. However, the states that passed the most restrictive voter ID laws are among the nation’s worst investors in public transportation… Seven of the ten restrictive voter ID states rank in the bottom half of the country when it comes to investment in public transportation.