A 2017 report by Democratic Senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota identified a number of barriers to voting for older Americans, including closure of voting locations, hard-to-reach polling places, and limits on early and absentee voting, as well as voter ID laws. A survey conducted by the Brennan Center for Justice found that nearly 20 percent of Americans over the age of 65 do not have a photo ID. While that survey has not been updated since 2006, more recent investigations suggest that obtaining government-issued photo IDs may continue to present older Americans with an obstacle to voting.
It’s relatively easy to understand how a polling place that isn’t wheelchair-accessible might discourage older people from voting: it creates a physical barrier. However, voter ID laws also present a challenge to older Americans. Although the most common form of photo ID is a driver’s license, some older Americans may not have this form of documentation. Depending on the circumstances of their births, they may not even have a birth certificate, which makes it impossible to get a license or photo ID for voting. Perhaps they simply never drove, or they chose not to renew their licenses as they aged. Some licenses may not be a valid form of ID: they may have incorrect addresses because the holder moved (to a care facility or even to another state) and did not change the information. Or, they may be unable to keep track of changes in the law, so they may not know what sort of ID they need, or even if they need an ID, to vote. For instance, Pennsylvania passed a stringent photo ID law in 2012, but it was struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just two years later.
Given the changing map of voter ID laws, this issue is likely to continue to present a problem for older Americans. Currently, a total of 34 states have laws that either ask or compel voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Seven of those states (Wisconsin, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kansas, Indiana and Georgia) require a photo ID. Arizona, North Dakota and Ohio require some form of non-photo ID. Older Americans and their families need to track changes in these laws and find ways to exercise their rights.
Kathleen Davies is a Staff Writer for GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and has practiced law and taught legal writing and advocacy.