I’ve been studying barriers to voter engagement and how technology can help. One barrier is that three million Americans don’t have a government-issued ID.
Thirty-three states have passed voter ID laws that typically require government-issued photo ID to vote. Most of the strict versions are in Republican states. They are the new poll taxes; thinly veiled ways to suppress poor and minority voters.
Government IDs are used not just to vote but to claim public assistance benefits, sign checks, and even enter some government buildings. The most common ID is a driver’s license but as autonomous cars hit the road, driver’s licenses will likely start to phase out.
To counter this, I can imagine a TurboTax for IDs. Give your information over the phone or through a mobile or web app and it walks you through how to obtain a Social Security Card, driver’s license, passport, or other ID. When people must appear in a location like the DMV, the app can handle scheduling, reminders, and directions. A network of volunteers can help those who need a higher touch. Sites like Vote.org and VotePlz can serve as models.
Another tack could be to work with a civically-minded state like California or Washington that would make it easy to get a government-issued ID from out of state. Many of the voter ID laws say any state ID will do. Some states may try to counter this in future elections by requiring an in-state ID but an out-of-state ID might at least work in the short-term and help people get services that require ID.
Those without IDs are likely among the remaining few without internet access. 92% of Americans now own a cellphone and 86% own a smartphone. Community centers like churches, charities, and libraries can help fill the gaps, including through mobile devices that can be taken to where people are.
Pressure should continue on governments to create fair systems but as technologists, we should think about how we can change the systems bottom-up.