Free identification: a pathway to true democracy

The cost of IDs and other documents create significant barriers for people in poverty.


As Election Day draws closer, I can’t help but think about how important it is that everyone gets to vote, especially those who might not have easy access to this right.

In Pennsylvania, people voting for the first time at their districts are required to show identification, something that — while seemingly innocuous — can create significant problems for individuals who cannot obtain state-issued IDs or other forms because of financial barriers.

Documents like birth certificates are required when applying for government ID cards and cost upwards of $50 each, the Inquirer reported. They can be out of reach for economically trying people.

For this reason, people in disenfranchised strata are sometimes excluded from voting simply because of their income. To maintain equal democratic representation, which includes the voices of people experiencing poverty, access to ID cards should be free.

Last year, New Jersey adopted a policy that waives the fees for people experiencing homelessness to obtain non-driver state IDs and birth certificates. Pennsylvania should also make an effort to give people in poverty free IDs and fair access to their right to vote.

Christina Borst, a junior strategic communications and political science major and the president of the Temple College Democrats, is in favor of this proposal.

“A lot of people don’t understand the complications that come with voter registration,” Borst said. “Voting should be as easy as possible.”

Borst said having access to free IDs “will open up the voting pool even further” for people who usually are denied democratic representation based on their economic status.

Patricia Amberg-Blyskal, a political science professor, said there is “a concern that people will lose their right to vote with voter ID laws.” Providing easier access to obtaining IDs would help mitigate that concern, she added.

The benefits of having an ID aren’t limited to just voting. IDs are important for job hunting, getting a house and applying for government assistance and health care. The cost associated with acquiring an ID traps those who are poor within their circumstances. Without IDs, they aren’t able to apply for jobs and improve their financial situations.

In a country with a significant class divide, it is important that the interests of people facing financial hardships are represented. We need these voices to be heard now more than ever.

“Something we’re hearing a lot in this election is that our government isn’t reflective of our population,” Amberg-Blyskal said. “People who govern us don’t come from experiences we relate to.”

Because so many wealthy, privileged people are represented in government, it is increasingly important that those who are not wealthy also get to have political opinions. Otherwise, it’s unlikely they’ll benefit from policy and legislation.

If Pennsylvania widens its voter pool by offering free ID access, local officials might be more inclined to adopt platforms that will be more beneficial to their diverse constituents.

“In the smaller sphere, [politicians] might do outreach that might change some policies,” Amberg-Blyskal said.

Charging people for IDs is a significant injustice, and it is the responsibility of our government to rectify it. Elections will not be fair if we ignore the fact that certain people are silenced.

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