Jews historically have had the highest voter participation rate of any demographic group in America. Although roughly 2 percent of the population, Jews make up almost 4 percent of all voters. That could change in the coming year, and it's not because Jews have lost interest in the political process.
Efforts are under way in many states, including Pennsylvania, to adopt voter ID laws that would require all voters to have a current government-issued photo identification card in order to vote, even if they are voting in the same polling place where they have voted for years.
The Pennsylvania House passed such legislation, HB 934, in June, and the proposed bill is expected to be taken up by the State Senate before the end of this year.
Why will such laws have a particular impact upon Jews? There are two factors involved: Jews vote in higher percentages than non-Jews and older people vote in higher percentages than younger people. The elderly are among those who will be hardest hit demographically by the law, according to a study by New York University's Brennan Center. Since Jews have a disproportionately high number of senior citizens compared to the rest of the population, they will be adversely affected.
Older residents are far less likely to have state-issued driver's licenses, the most common form of photo ID that would be accepted under the pending legislation.
Jews are also more likely to reside in urban areas, where having a car is less important. As a result, many urban professionals find that they can go through life just fine without a driver's license as long as they don't try to vote.
How bad is the problem? A 2007 Indiana survey found that roughly 13 percent of registered voters lacked a driver's license or alternate Indiana-issued photo ID. Exit polls in California, New Mexico and Washington showed that 12 percent of actual voters in 2006 lacked a valid driver's license.
Proponents of the voter ID laws claim they are designed to prevent voter fraud. Statistically, cases of alleged fraud are almost non-existent. The real effort is designed to suppress the vote of the elderly, the young and minorities. Although the effort isn't anti-Jewish, Jews will get caught up in the effort more than many others.
Proponents claim that it is easy to get a photo ID. Not really. Start with an original Social Security card -- not one that has been laminated because a laminated card is not one of the acceptable forms of proof. If you don't have one, just make a personal trip to the Social Security Office and wait a few hours to show someone your driver's license. Oh, you don't have one? Not a problem, go to the Department of Transportation Office and show them your birth certificate and your Social Security card.
Feel caught in a Catch 22? You are not alone. Just getting a birth certificate can be a daunting task. You can order one by mail for $10 in Pennsylvania if you already have valid government-issued photo identification and are willing to wait 16 to 18 weeks.
Or you can pay a personal visit to the Division of Vital Records between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday to Friday. Be sure to take two documents to verify your name and address like a pay stub and a car registration. Retired and without a car? No problem, bring a utility bill. Oh, it's in someone else's name? Try your lease. No lease, huh? How about a W-2? Perhaps a passport.
So, if your Aunt Mildred wants to keep voting, you only have a few choices. Complain loud and long to your state lawmaker to prevent passage of the legislation. Or, start early and play the bureaucratic game to get Aunt Mildred her photo ID. And by the way, you better double check because if the name on the photo ID does not match the name on the voter registration rolls exactly, you will still have to tell poor Aunt Mildred that she can't vote.
Josh Pasek is an assistant professor of communication studies and a faculty associate at the Center for Political Studies at the University of Michigan. His father, Jeff Pasek, is the board chair of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network (JSPAN), which opposes all state legislation requiring photo IDs to vote.