NBC's Ronan Farrow Investigates How Strict Voter ID Laws Disenfranchise Democrats, Students, The Poor, And People Of Color

Farrow: “States With These Laws See A Drop In Turnout Of About One To Two Percentage Points,” Which “Could Be Enough … To Swing The Race”

From the November 3 edition of NBC's Today:

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RONAN FARROW: According to one recent survey, one in five voters lives in a state that requires photo ID to vote, but don't know it. In this election cycle the situation has gotten a whole lot more complicated, a wave of new laws making it tougher than ever just to cast a ballot.


CHARDA HANAMADAS: I just felt so stunned and disenfranchised and angry. I should be able to go to my middle school two blocks from my house and be able to cast my vote, just like every other American. 

FARROW: Charda Hanamadas lives in Wisconsin. She's a mother of three and a public school teacher, and this year, she was told she wouldn't be able to vote.

HANAMADAS: I voted in every election since I was 18 years old. 

FARROW: But this year a new voter ID law took effect in Wisconsin limiting the ID you can use at the polls. Charda is an American citizen who immigrated from Ireland when she was just 6 weeks old. She has an Illinois driver's license, but not a Wisconsin issued photo ID or current passport. The DMV said she needed naturalization papers, which US immigration services told her would cost $345 and take many months to get. Charda struggles to make her teacher's salary cover treatment for her twin daughters' cystic fibrosis. It was too much. 

HANAMADAS: I'm heartbroken. 

FARROW: This election, 14 states have new voting laws, eight of them limiting the kind of ID you can use. 

DALE HO: It varies from state to state. In Texas, they accept concealed weapons permits for voting but they don't accept student ID cards.

FARROW: Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Poject, says about 10 percent of registered voters don't have the right kind of ID. 

HO: Well they're disproportionately poor people, people of color, a lot of students who may be coming from out of state. 


FARROW: In September, a voter advocacy group recorded a Wisconsin DMV turning away this resident, Zack Moore, who's homeless.


Zack had a social security card, pay stubs, and an Illinois ID, but not a birth certificate. That entitled him to a temporary voter ID under Wisconsin law, but Zack was repeatedly told that was not an option. And when we showed students at nearby University of Wisconsin-Madison the list of valid forms of identification, some were surprised. 


Molly McGrath of the voter advocacy group Vote Riders, is pushing back against the laws.

MOLLY MCGRATH: New voters have to learn about the law and what ID they need to show. It's a learning curve for everyone.

FARROW: She helped record Zack and others being turned away from registration, stories that led a federal judge to order an investigation. So far, courts have struck down or narrowed voter ID laws in seven states finding they discriminate against minorities. One judge writing that in North Carolina, “the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” But the laws have numerous defenders. 


DONALD TRUMP: You got to get those ballots. ... Some places they probably do that four or five times. 


FARROW: There are conservatives who say this is necessary, this is preventing fraud.

HO: The most recent comprehensive study of voter impersonation, found that between 2004 to 2014, there were 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation at the polls.

FARROW: Thirty-one?

HO: Thirty-one in a period in which over one billion ballots were cast. You are literally more likely to get struck by a lightning bolt than to have somebody impersonate you at the polls. 

FARROW: Ho says the data shows voters targeted by these laws are overwhelmingly Democrats, giving some politicians a different reason to defend them. 

REP. GLENN GROTHMAN (R-WI): Hillary Clinton is the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up and now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well. 

HANAMADAS: If I could say one message to politicians who are supporting these voter ID laws, I would say let me vote. I'm an American, I've earned my right to vote, let me vote. 


FARROW: After weeks of lobbying from Vote Riders Charda had a breakthrough this week. The DMV saying they would make an exception to the rules and give her a temporary voter ID, but she says no one should have to fight to vote the way she has, and according to the data, a lot of people never win that fight. A study by the Government Accountability Office showing that states with these laws see a drop in turnout of about one to two percentage points. Guys that may not seem like a lot but in a lot of close states that could be enough, tens of thousands of people, to swing the race. 

MATT LAUER (CO-HOST): So you've got to make a phone call, go online, find out exactly what's required in your state.

FARROW: That's exactly right, but for certain people, you know, some homeless people who don't have proper identification, disproportionately it's people of color as we mentioned, there are very serious obstacles to getting these forms of ID. 


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