The November 8 election was the first presidential election where voters in Virginia were required to show a valid photo ID to cast their vote. In Arlington, that made voting quite difficult for a lot of people without a Virginia driver’s license.
It’s easy to be car-free in Arlington, meaning lots of people don’t get driver’s licenses
In Arlington County, there are lots of ways to get around aside from driving, including riding a bike, walking, buses, Metrorail, VRE, taxis, and ride hailing. The county also provides lots of tools to help its citizens be car-free, such as maps, apps, transit screens, commuter stores, brochures, and websites.
With so many transportation options, some people do not get a Virginia driver's license because they do not need to drive. Obviously, then, when they go to vote, can’t use a driver’s license as an ID.
The numbers of active voters in Virginia, Arlington County, and the Virginia Highlands Precinct in Arlington (where I live) who do not have a matching DMV record — and probably no Virginia driver’s license or DMV ID — are not trivial: for the state of Virginia, it’s 90,797 (2% of residents); for Arlington County, it’s 6157 (4%); and for the Virginia Highlands Precinct, it’s 347 (9%).
Until 2014, Virginians lacking a Virginia driver’s license could still vote because a photo ID was not required. Before 2012, people in Virginia could show a variety of IDs, with and without photographs, before voting. Most voters who did not have an ID with them could sign an Affirmation of Identity form and then be allowed to vote.
In 2012 Virginia eliminated the Affirmation of Identity form and moved to requiring voters to show an approved ID; at that time, many non-photographic IDs were still allowed. Those without an acceptable ID could vote using a provisional ballot, which are ballots that don’t get counted until after the election.
The definition of “acceptable photo ID”
In 2013, the voter ID law was changed to requiring all voters to show a “current, acceptable photo ID” to vote in 2014 elections.
The definition of acceptable photo IDs includes current Virginia driver’s licenses; DMV ID cards; any current photo ID issued by the federal government, Virginia state government, or Virginia local government agency; a student photo ID card from any Virginia college, university, or private school; or any employee ID with photo. Any acceptable ID that has expired can be used, as long as the date is within 12 months of the election date.
Unacceptable photo IDs include out-of-state driver’s licenses and out-of-state student photo IDs.
During the presidential election, some voters who have out-of-state driver’s licenses were not aware that their license is not acceptable in Virginia, even though it works for purchasing alcohol, entering federal buildings, and airline travel.
Some of these voters had no acceptable alternative IDs — no employee ID, no passport, no Virginia student ID. When they tried to vote, they had to vote a provisional ballot and then had to submit a photocopy of an acceptable photo ID for their ballot to count. Many of these voters left angry, without voting, because of their frustration.
For voters who have no valid photo ID, all Virginia Registrars’ offices will provide a free photo ID for voting. However, between May 2015 and August 2016 only 105 voters contacted the Arlington County Registrar’s Offices for complimentary voting IDs. That suggests that some eligible voters lacking IDs either were not aware of this service or found the process too cumbersome.
Although the voter card is free, it is not without cost for most voters, who must go to the registrar's office, typically during business hours. These voters often need to take time off work and pay for transit to and from the registrar's office.
The number of Virginians without driver’s licenses will continue to grow. The January 2016 University of Michigan Transit Research Institute study shows that fewer and fewer Americans of all ages have drivers' licenses. As this trend continues, it makes no sense to rely on drivers' licenses for voter ID.
We must do more, and we can do better, to help all voters vote!