Millions of U.S. voters lack access to documents to prove citizenship


If asked to quickly locate a passport, birth certificate or naturalization papers to produce proof of citizenship tomorrow, more than 21 million Americans – about 9% of eligible voters – would not be able to, according to the survey, conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice, VoteRiders, Public Wise, and the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement (CDCE) at the University of Maryland. Nearly 4 million American citizens – 2% in total – lack access to any form of proof in citizenship.

The survey comes as Donald Trump and his allies have seized on fears about immigration to make the threat of non-citizen voting a major talking point ahead of November. Republicans have exaggerated the threat of non-citizen voting – which is already illegal and rare – and have pushed for federal legislation that would require proof of citizenship to vote in federal elections.

“We all know – intuitively – that a lot of illegals are voting in federal elections. But it’s not been something that is easily provable,” Mike Johnson, the US House speaker, said last month.

Two states that have already tried measures to require documentary proof of citizenship, Kansas and Arizona, offer case studies in how such a restriction can disenfranchise voters. In Kansas, 30,000 people had their voter registration held up between 2013 and 2016 because of the law. In Arizona, a proof-of-citizenship requirement for state elections has negatively affected tribal voters and college students.

Researchers also found racial disparities in who has access to citizenship documents. About 3% of voters of color do not have access to proof-of-citizenship documents, compared with 1% of white Americans. Americans of color were also more likely to not have easy access to the documents compared with their white counterparts.

“Our estimates are probably conservative measures of impact,” the researchers wrote in a blogpost announcing their findings. “While it’s true that most Americans can access these documents, most of us don’t walk around town carrying our passport or birth certificate. If those documents were required for voter registration, most would not have them readily available to take advantage of opportunities they encounter at schools, churches or other community spaces where registration drives register many Americans to vote.”

About 4% of independents, 2% of Democrats and 1% of Republicans lacked easy access to proof-of-citizenship documents, the survey found.

In addition to citizenship, the survey also found that about 21 million Americans of voting age do not have a non-expired driver’s license, with non-white voters less likely to have one.

About 30% of Black Americans between 18 and 29 did not have a driver’s license and 47% did not have one with a current name or address. About 5% of white Americans in the same age group did not have a driver’s license, and 42% did not have one with a current name or address.

“Millions of eligible voters lack a current form of photo ID – and it’s not easy to get one,” said Lauren Kunis, the executive director of VoteRiders, which helps people get ID. “Getting an ID can mean needing to track down underlying proof-of-citizenship documents like a birth certificate, navigating bureaucracy and paperwork, or spending hours at an ID-issuing office that is hard to reach. For these reasons and many more, voter ID laws make it more complicated, costly and confusing to cast a ballot in America today.”

Read the full story in The Guardian.