Since the 2008 election, there has been a wave of new election laws that restrict access to the ballot box. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates the voting changes could make it harder for five million eligible voters to vote.
The most onerous restriction requires voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote.
Strict photo ID requirements disproportionately impact young, minority and low-income voters.
In Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the U. S. Supreme Court held that a state with strict photo ID requirements must provide free photo IDs. While the voter ID is free, the document a citizen must produce to establish his or her identity, typically a birth certificate, is not free.
The cost of obtaining a certified birth certificate ranges from $5.00 in some counties in Indiana to $25.00 in Georgia. In addition to the state fee, an applicant will have to pay for postage and photocopying (if requested by mail), a processing fee (if ordered online) or transportation costs (if requested in person).
There are also opportunity costs. With documents in hand, some voters will lose wages as they wait in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles to apply for a “free” voter ID.
Civil rights organizations, including the ACLU and the NAACP, are rightly challenging restrictive photo ID laws. But voters need assistance right now. So at Random Hacks of Kindness at Drexel University, I shared the problem facing millions of already registered voters who, for the first time, must show an official photo ID.
My team developed a prototype for the Cost of Freedom App, a location-based web app that will provide voters with information on how to get a voter ID.
If they do not have an orginal or certified birth certificate, users can type their city and zip code to find out where to get one the cost. If they want to apply in person, they will be given the location, office hours, and directions using public transportation.
Development of the Cost of Freedom App is being crowdsourced by ordinary citizens who are concerned about the impact of photo ID requirements on voting rights.
The Cost of Freedom Project will raise awareness about photo ID requirements among voters who don't have a driver's license, non-driver's license or any other government-issued photo ID. And they may not have "a pot or a window." But they have the right to vote.
In a 1957 speech titled, "Give Us the Ballot," Dr. King said:
So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind—it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact—I can only submit to the edict of others.
We plan to launch the Cost of Freedom App on April 4, 2012. To get involved in this citizen-led voter protection initiative, visit us at Facebook.com/CostofFreedom.