VoteRiders President Kathleen Unger, Who Aims to Help Disenfranchised Voters In States With Stringent Voter ID Laws

On June 25, the Supreme Court struck down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act that designated which states were required to have their voting laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court due to a history of voting discrimination.

Not two hours after the Supreme Court's decision was announced, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott declared that a voter identification law would go into effect that was blocked last year by the Justice Department after a panel of federal judges ruled it would impose "strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor."

Bustle spoke with Kathleen Unger, the president of VoteRiders, the non-partisan, non-profit organization that is holding its first Voter ID Clinic on September 21 in Houston to help citizens meet the requirements of their state's voter ID law. The clinics aim to help potentially disenfranchised voters obtain the documentation necessary to ensure they are able to vote in primary and general elections. VoteRiders and its partner organizations will hold the first clinics in Texas, but VoteRiders will expand its voter ID clinics next year to other states where government-issued photo ID laws are either currently in place or likely to be within the next few years.

BUSTLE: Texas’ attorney general declared the immediate enforcement of the state’s voter ID law two hours after the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act. What does the Texas law entail?

KATHLEEN UNGER: There are seven forms of acceptable voter ID in Texas now. To give you an idea, there’s a driver’s license, something called a personal identification card, concealed handgun license, military identification card with the person’s photograph, citizenship certificate with the person’s photograph, passport, and then there’s something called the Texas election identification certificate, which is actually the voter ID (which requires confirmation that you registered to vote). 

All of these acceptable forms of ID, except the citizenship certificate, must be current or expired within 60 days prior to the election.

Who are the citizens most likely to be affected by voter ID law? 

The people who are impacted especially by voter ID laws are those without a current driver's license. They are the elderly, people who no longer drive, people with disabilities, people who are ill, and people who are injured. And the other group broadly impacted by the stringent voter ID laws are low-income. And that spans, obviously, all demographics. And there are plenty of these citizens across the country, and certainly in the sixteen states that either have or likely will have within the next few years government-issued photo ID laws required for people to vote. 

The most difficult part about getting a voter ID is the transportation and the necessary documents. By its very nature, [these voters] don’t have a car. They don’t have a means of getting from where they are to the DMV in their state. In Texas, that can be 250 miles round-trip.

The other complicated and expensive part of the process is to secure the documents that are needed. That’s where VoteRiders voter ID clinics come in.

How does VoteRiders identify and reach these voters who are likely to be disenfranchised by voter ID law?

There are many ways. One is through our local partners posting a flyer or poster in many different locations in the community that we’ve provided to them. Another is through traditional media such as newspapers and other publications, radio and cable news broadcasting. Also through blog posts, through social media, and, importantly, through reaching out to friends, families, and neighbors who might know of citizens who need to get their voter ID and getting their help to encourage citizens to attend the voter ID clinics and to take them there.

How does VoteRiders find and train partners to help with its mission?

I founded VoteRiders in early April of last year, and we spent all of last year reaching out to and working with organizations that were remotely involved in educating the public about voter ID laws. And as a result of all that outreach and research, we decided that voter ID clinics would train volunteers in local communities to help obtain voter ID. So, we have developed relationships with a lot of organizations in many states, and as VoteRiders and our voter ID clinics become more well known, we are in contact with more and more prospective organizations.

My background in this regard is that about a dozen years ago, I became deeply involved as a volunteer and passionate about election protection and integrity. I’ve worked with organizations all over the country, and these organizations are really dedicated and effective in so many areas to help voters with protecting their vote. Voter ID laws, especially those that require government issued photo ID, are pretty new, and there is no other national organization that helps them get their voter ID. That’s why I founded VoteRiders, and we continue to be the only national organization that’s solely focused on helping people get their voter IDs. 

How will VoteRiders Voter ID Clinics help voters?

Citizen voters who need documents to get their voter ID will be helped at the clinics to get a copy of their birth certificate, and a copy of the legal record showing any change made since birth. In other words, adoption certificates, marriage certificates, and if there’s been a remarriage with a change in name, then not only that marriage certificate, but the divorce decree or death certificate of the prior spouse.

In addition, the voter ID clinics will give guidance to citizen voters as to how to get a replacement of a citizenship certificate, or a replacement of a social security card or proof of residency.

How is VoteRiders planning to track the cost of voter ID laws?

We provide to our partner organizations a clinic data workbook, a two-page spreadsheet. The first page is non-personal demographic data gleaned from the intake forms that are filled out for each voter at the voter ID clinic, and the second page tracks time and out-of-pocket costs spent by the partner organizations, the volunteers, and the citizen voters themselves. So, the partner organization keeps track of time and cost and then provides that to VoteRiders.

Are there currently any legal challenges to Texas voter ID law?

Yes. There are two cases that were just consolidated yesterday. One was brought by individuals and organizations, and the other was brought by the U.S. Department of Justice. The consolidated case will be on October 25.

[Check out the Washington Post for more information on the Justice Department's challenge to the Texas voter ID law.]

How is VoteRiders planning to expand the clinics to other states? 

We are in contact with partner organizations in seven or eight other states, talking through with them what is required to conduct the voter ID clinics. We expect that there will be more voter ID clinics, not only in several other locations in Texas, but in other states starting next year, in preparation for the primary elections, and then of course the general elections. 

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