Augusta Free Press: ‘Stakes are too high to sit any election out’: VoteRiders works to remove barriers to voting
BY REBECCA BARNABI, AUGUSTA FREE PRESS — OCTOBER 16, 2023
All eligible Americans 18 years old and older have a right to vote, and a nonprofit works every day to remove barriers for voters.
Lauren Kunis, CEO, has been with VoteRiders for two years. Because she is “steeped in and cares a lot about these issues,” she previously worked with a national voter registration program overseas and in the United States.
She said that VoteRiders, a nonprofit organization in eight states with virtual programs across the country, is focused on voter ID laws, which are in 38 states and affects 50 million more Americans in 2023 than in 2012.
“We’ve seen an unprecedented rise in voter ID laws since 2020,” Kunis said.
Seventeen states added voter ID laws since 2020.
“Voter ID has really, as an issue, found itself in the crosshairs,” she said.
VoteRiders offers an ID helpline and, in northern Virginia particularly, an ID assistance program for voters to obtain copies of birth certificates and SSN cards.
According to Kunis, VoteRiders pays for transportation for voters to and from assistance programs and pays for forms of ID. The nonprofit partners with local food banks and shelters to enable disadvantaged members of communities the opportunity to vote. Not only does a form of identification open the door for them to vote, it also helps them obtain housing and employment.
“We think it is a travesty that voter ID laws keep even one voter from casting a ballot,” Kunis said.
According to a University of Maryland study, more young Americans, students, low-income and minority Americans lack ID compared to other groups.
“These laws are making it harder for all Americans to vote,” Kunis said. And never more so than for disadvantaged members of society.
In Virginia, all eligible voters will be asked to confirm their identity at the polls before casting a ballot, either with a photo or non-photo form of ID.
“You do not need to have an acceptable ID to cast a ballot,” Kunis said.
Virginians can vote without ID by notifying the poll volunteer and signing a form. Kunis said she also encourages Virginians to bring a friend or two and encourage them to vote.
She encourages Virginians to know their rights as voters. Voting by mail varies by state. And voting by mail in Virginia no longer requires a witness’s signature, just the voter’s date of birth or voting number.
“It’s very important [in Virginia] for every voter to make a plan to vote.” ID should be part of every voter’s plan, and should be brought with each voter to their polling location.
VoteRider’s website provides information about voters’ rights and possible forms of ID.
“The stakes are too high to sit any election out and that’s particularly true this year in Virginia,” Kunis said.
Voters who encounter problems at their voting locations can text or call questions to VoteRiders at 866-ID-2-VOTE or contact their local board of elections.
“Unfortunately, the need for our work is more important now than ever before,” Kunis said of the nonprofit’s future. When funding allows, VoteRiders will expand and provide volunteer presences in other states and offer free ID assistance.
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