Letter: ‘IDs Are Everything’

A reader stresses the social and economic importance of having official identification.

Chris Keane / Reuters

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Last week, Vann R. Newkirk II addressed the President’s claim that photo identifications are a day-to-day necessity. “Strict photo-ID requirements,” Newkirk wrote, “are relatively rare in American society.”

Vann wrote in response to Trump’s statement you need an ID to buy groceries, so voter ID laws aren’t a big deal. That statement is, of course, insane. However, Vann’s response—that IDs are not that important in every day life—was shockingly incorrect.

I run Spread The Vote, an organization that obtains IDs for people who need them for jobs, housing, medical care, and, in states with voter-ID laws, to vote. Every day we obtain IDs for people who are desperate for jobs, people who cannot sleep at a shelter because they don’t have one, people who tell us over and over again that they are not a person without an identification.

Just this week, Child Protective Services in Charlottesville, Virginia, asked us to help a homeless new mother get an ID. Her one-month-old baby had been taken from her until she could get back on her feet. She needed an identification to get a job at Taco Bell and get her baby back. Or, take Jimmy in Atlanta, who needed a job to get his life back on track, but couldn’t start one without an ID. It’s a common story.

We’ve worked with an expectant mother with gestational diabetes who couldn’t get an insulin shot without an ID, a disabled veteran who needed identification to get a wheelchair-accessible van from the Veterans Association, and many, many more. You can see some of their stories here.

IDs are life. They are critical for surviving with dignity. They are mandatory for every part of life that allows a person to advance themselves socially and economically. IDs are everything.

As we attempt to fight voter-ID laws—which most certainly are forms of voter suppression—we cannot do so at the expense of the 11 percent of Americans, 21 million eligible voters, who do not have and desperately need photo IDs.

Kat Calvin
Founder, Spread The Vote
Los Angeles, Calif.

Vann R. Newkirk II replies:

First, a mea culpa. In response to an improbable comment from the president, I went for a somewhat sarcastic argument that ended up not giving enough consideration to the people for whom lack of access to proper ID is a major barrier to everyday necessities. I’ve talked to several people for whom that’s true—I’m related to more than a few of them—and it’s not responsible to imply that their lives are easy, or that even the workarounds requiring birth certificates or social security are accessible to many people whose main problem is a lack of those documents. This is the main reason why voter-ID laws are so discriminatory.

The intended argument was a legal and rhetorical one, and it’s that most of the professed absolutists on strict voter-ID laws actually do understand that such a system does and can keep lots of folks from having access. Loopholes and workarounds for elderly and low-income people, or folks trying to board a plane who’ve lost their IDs, are necessary (if not very useful, all the same) for that purpose. The last line is the core of what should’ve been a tighter piece: That a system in which people are denied access to necessities because they lack a few documents is already a moral travesty, and is a much greater one when people are denied the right to vote.

That said, thank you to Kat for reaching out and helping me and our readers expand our thinking on this. I look forward to learning more about your work and your members as voter-ID laws advance.