Posted by Meghan Greene, Manager, CFI

In the run up to this year’s U.S. presidential election, there has been much controversy over the topic of voter IDs. Seeking to curb voter fraud, numerous states have sought to implement stronger voting ID laws that would require prospective voters to present government-issued photo identification such as a drivers license or non-driver state ID. Additionally, last week the Supreme Court agreed to review Arizona’s law, which would require voters to demonstrate citizenship (via a document such as a passport or birth certificate).

Do many Americans really lack ID? As it turns out, yes. In a 2006 study , the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of American adults – or more than 21 million people – do not have a government-issued photo ID. This group is composed disproportionately of elderly, minorities, and low income persons:

  • 25 percent of African American voting-age citizens do not have a current photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens of voting age.
  • 18 percent of American citizens age 65 and above lack such an ID.
  • Citizens earning less than $35,000 a year are twice as likely to lack a photo ID.

Moreover, the same study found that 7 percent of American citizens do not have “ready access” to citizenship documents, like U.S. passports, naturalization papers, or birth certificates. According to the AARP, people over 65 are more likely to lack birth certificates, because they were born before certificates became standardized procedure.

Lack of appropriate identity or citizenship documentation may affect not only eligibility to vote, but can also have broad repercussions in other areas of life, including participation in the financial system. According to the New York City government, such documents are often required in order to get a job, cash a check, open a back account, sign an apartment lease, fly on a plane – even buy alcohol.

At Financial Access at Birth (FAB), which seeks to arm newborn babies with a funded savings account linked to a unique, universal ID, we know the importance of appropriate identification. The Global Findex cited “lack of necessary documentation” as a key reason why individuals don’t have a bank account – yet more than 40 percent of all births worldwide go unregistered. All citizens – Americans or otherwise – should have easy access to establish their citizenship and identity, allowing them to be fully recognized by and engaged in their political process, financial system and other facets of society.

Image Credit: Nate Shepard

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