A government-issued ID is something many of us take for granted. Countless teenagers take their road tests, receive driver’s licenses, and never have to think about their ID again unless they lose their wallet or forget it at home for a day. So it’s hard to imagine how important, even life-changing, that little piece of plastic is - until you’ve had to live without it.
Studies estimate that over 21 million eligible voters lack a government-issued ID. The number is far bigger when you add non-eligible voters. At first glance, that may not seem like an urgent problem. If you don’t drive, what do you even need it for?
Turns out, a lot. Applying for housing? ID. Need government benefits or healthcare? ID. Want to open a bank account, cash a check, get paid by your employer? ID. Traveling by air? ID. (By 2020, you’ll need federal ID to fly!) Applying for a job? Many large office buildings won’t even let you past the doorman without an ID. Job-hunting becomes a lot more difficult when you can’t even get in the building for an interview. Mailing Christmas gifts to friends and family? Photo ID required, according to new government regulations on shipping.
Ok, so if an ID is such a big deal, why don’t people just get them?
It’s a fairly simple process in theory - gather the necessary documents, go to your nearest ID-issuing office, and complete the application. States that require ID’s for voting even issue them for ‘free’ to comply with federal law (any fees would constitute poll taxes according to the 24th amendment). But study after study, along with Spread The Vote’s first-hand experience with our clients, has shown that even ‘free’ ID’s are often costly and difficult to obtain in practice.
The obstacles to obtaining an ID are numerous. First, the applicant must gather documentation – things like birth certificates, naturalization papers, social security cards, official court documents for anyone who has changed their name and/or gender marker, and proof of residence. Original copies are usually required, which can cost money to obtain. The poor face the challenge of paying for all this paperwork. The homeless lack the residential address required, and often must seek out a social service organization that is willing to accept mail for them. Elderly voters who were born in rural areas may have never been issued birth certificates, and must make their way through an endless bureaucratic maze in order to prove their identities. Students and young voters may find their dormitory addresses are not accepted. Native Americans who live on reservations may find that PO Boxes are not accepted either. Trans and gender-nonconforming applicants face rampant discrimination if their gender presentation does not match the gender marker on their documents.
If a voter manages to gather all their paperwork, another challenge looms: actually getting to their nearest ID-issuing office. Over 10 million people live over 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office. Many offices are only open part-time – these are often concentrated in poor, rural, and majority-minority areas. Offices in cities often face long wait times due to high demand. The working poor often cannot afford to take time off in order to go obtain ID, or risk losing their job if they do so. For many, the cost of transportation alone is an insurmountable obstacle.
This is where Project ID comes in. Our mission is simple - to help everyone obtain the identification they need to achieve their goals and fully participate in public life. We pay all fees and work with clients in 12 states (and growing) to help them through every phase of the process. If you’re missing paperwork, we’ll pay for it and do all the bureaucratic back-and-forth for you. If you don’t have a car or can’t afford gas right now, we’ll drive you to the DMV. If an application is confusing, our experts are here to help.
This work is complicated. And it’s expensive - the average cost of an ID is $40 but some can cost hundreds of dollars. So why do we do it? Because it changes lives. Our clients have gotten jobs, supported their families through rough times, obtained crucial medical care, and so much more - just because of one little piece of plastic.
Want to help? Find out more here.