Ohio Capital Journal: VoteRiders gearing up to offer voter ID assistance in Ohio
Written by: Erin Carden
The reaction was swift after Ohio instituted what critics call the “most restrictive” voter ID restrictions in the country. Already, a handful of organizations are suing to block to the new law. Others are gearing up to help Ohioans navigate the new reality by helping them get the IDs they need to vote.
VoteRiders is a non-partisan organization focused on voter ID and the challenges it presents to voting access. Executive Director Lauren Kunis describes their approach as “soup to nuts.”
“We really do everything we can to remove every logistical, financial, legal barrier that an eligible voter has,” she explains.
In some cases that’s helping a person get a ride. In others it might be helping secure vital documents like a birth certificate.
During the 2022 elections, the organization had a significant on-the-ground presence in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. But Kunis notes they offer online services in every state.
That footprint means responding to a lot of very specific and often minutely different policy environments. As of October of last year, 35 states request or require some form of ID to vote according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio’s new law makes it the ninth state with some form of strict photo ID based on NCSL’s analysis.
Kunis explained new requirements lead to voter confusion, so a big part of their work is education.
“Ohio law has very specific requirements for what type of ID is acceptable for voting,” she explained. “So millions of voters may have what they need to vote, but they may not know it. They may be unnecessarily deterred from voting for this reason.
Kunis described Ohio’s provisions as “one of the most onerous in the country,” and argued the new restrictions could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters.
In recent story, Cleveland.com did some back of the envelope math comparing Ohio’s voting age population to the number of people with driver’s licenses or ID cards. They came up with a difference of 462,500.
Kunis also pointed a to a 2006 study from the Brennan Center that found, nationally, as many as 11% of U.S. citizens don’t have a current, unexpired photo ID. The hang-ups can be mundane — an old address or a maiden name, for instance. Getting a new license isn’t always top of mind when someone moves, gets married, gets divorced or transitions. The same report also found many don’t have ready access to citizenship documents like a birth certificate or naturalization papers.
The new law’s supporters have emphasized that people without an ID can get one at no charge. More recent Brennan research underscores that those policies don’t always work out. Poorer voters and people of color face persistent challenges despite free ID policies. About a million people in Ohio have a suspended license, for instance. They’re eligible for a free ID card, but with limited transportation getting one could be difficult. They also might not know they’re eligible.
Voter ID laws “impact different communities differently,” Kunis explained, and the cases they see run the gamut.
“Oftentimes, the voters we work with lack the required underlying documents you need to get an ID. This can be a birth certificate, social security card and name change document, marriage or divorce certificate,” Kunis said. “They need to get these documents in order to then be able to get a photo ID in the first place.”
She explained VoteRiders helps people navigate that process so they can secure an ID and cast a ballot. For other voters, though, Kunis said the challenges are more physical.
“Oftentimes, it’s hard to access transportation to and from ID issuing offices,” Kunis said. “The physical distance may be a barrier. The limited hours of operation may be a barrier.”
She described how VoteRiders partnered with Uber and Lyft during a recent election to help people get offices like the BMV.
For now, Kunis said, they’re watching and waiting — mobilizing in case the law takes effect. Part of that is marshaling resources and finding partners for outreach. Kunis noted in the past they’ve worked with all kinds of local service providers like foodbanks, shelters, or employment programs.
Another part is simply scouring the legislative text and distilling it to formula the average person can understand. They make downloadable business card sized explanations of a given state’s requirements with a phone number in case voters have questions or run into trouble at the polls.
Kunis explained they aim to be as targeted as possible in their outreach. Elsewhere they’ve used state data like previously rejected ballots or cross-referencing voter rolls with driver’s license data.
Her biggest emphasis for voters with no ID, with an expired or non-current ID, or unsure if they have the right documents is to start early.
“No eligible voters should wait,” she said. “It can take weeks or months to get the ID you need to vote.”
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.