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New organization seeks to help get people to the DMV for ID to overcome new laws that restrict voting

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Currently, 31 states have passed laws requiring picture photo ID or some other kind of identification that’s rather difficult for a lot of people to offer up to allow them to vote. The Brennan school did a study that found at least 5 million people could be disenfranchised because of these new regulations. And a new organization has been formed to try to help solve the problem, and it’s called VoteRiders.

Now joining us to talk about all of this is Kathleen Unger. She’s the founder and president of VoteRiders—and that’s sort of like Freedom Riders, spelled R-I-D-E-R-S. She’s an active attorney. She was a vice president in a past life at Universal Studios. And Ms. Unger’s political experience includes cochairing a congressional campaign, and she’s been devoted to election protection issues for at least the last decade. Thanks very much for joining us, Kathleen.


JAY: And I should add, just for full transparency, a few years ago, Kathleen worked for a while with The Real News Network. So, Kathleen, tell me, why did you get involved in this? Let me just ask, why did you form VoteRiders? What’s it trying to do?

UNGER: VoteRiders is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that is devoted to helping citizens, eligible citizens, get their voter IDs. We formed VoteRiders because while there are governmental entities and campaigns and wonderful organizations that are helping to educate people about what’s needed to get their voter IDs, we felt that we needed to take the next step and actually reach out to citizens to help them get their voter IDs.

JAY: So if one goes to your website, what I find is you have a campaign where you want people to pledge to—what is it?—get at least one or two people actually to a Department of Motor Vehicles in one of these states and actually help them get IDs so they can go vote. So do I have it right? And how is that going?

UNGER: We’ve just launched the pledge to—we call it “Take a friend to the DMV”. Of course, DMV stands for Department of Motor Vehicles. But it’s essentially wherever in your state you would go to get your voter ID. So the idea is to go to and to sign up to help three citizens get their voter IDs. And you’ll be hearing back from us about the 31 states, and the election protection hotline 866-OUR-VOTE, and other ways that we can assist you in reaching out to people to help get their voter IDs.

JAY: Okay. So give some examples of the laws that are being passed and why you think this is going to disenfranchise people.

UNGER: There is—we are concerned about this. The strictest laws require a government-issued photo ID. And so that means—basically, the people who are in jeopardy are those who do not have a drivers license in the state in which they live and where they intend to vote. So if—that may mean that you have to get a copy of your birth certificate, wherever that’s from, and, frankly, that can take two and a half months to get. So now is the time to proceed.

JAY: And it’s not just a drivers license, ’cause DMVs can also issue state identity cards. So it’s not like you have to take a driving test in order to vote.

UNGER: No. Forgive me if I made that—you know, if I were confusing in that. No. It’s just that that’s the location where you would also get your voter ID.

JAY: Right. Now, let me ask you—so people that support these laws are saying, well, why shouldn’t people have to show legitimate ID? Voter fraud’s a big issue and there’s all—they say that voter fraud is prevalent in many of these states. And so why shouldn’t people have to prove they have a right to vote?

UNGER: We’re not—two things. First of all, VoteRiders does not deal with the politics or policies in connection with the voter ID laws. We take them as is and are really trying to help citizens meet the requirements of their states’ laws so that they’ll be able to vote when the time comes. And we’re not saying that there should be no identification. It’s just that it’s—in many states what they are now requiring is—it’s very complicated. It can be very time-consuming. It can be pretty expensive. So it’s important for us all to reach out and help our fellow citizens to help them get their voter IDs.

JAY: So you’re trying to be diplomatic and not get in the middle of the debate. But as a factual matter, where are things at with this legally? I mean, is this a violation of the Voting Rights Act of—what is it—1965? And where are these issues at in the courts?

UNGER: Well, there is one state’s law, Wisconsin, which doesn’t have anything to do with the Voting Rights Act but which is in—their law is in the court and it is currently enjoined, so it’s not in force, and it remains to be seen if, when, and to what extent that law will be overturned or upheld. So the Voting Rights Act forbids discrimination on the basis of race and discrimination against, you know, people of color, minorities, in the election laws of that state or—.

JAY: And the states you’re referring to violated this in the past. That’s why they have this special issue they have to get any changes.

UNGER: Exactly.

JAY: And if I understand correctly, now the Justice Department’s stepped in in Texas and didn’t uphold this ID law, and Texas is now suing the federal government so they can enact this voter ID law.

UNGER: Correct.

JAY: But at the moment in these 31 states, more or less these ID laws are in place and are operative, and that’s why you’re doing what you’re doing.


JAY: Okay. Now, in your press release you mention that women are—32 million I think you give the number of women are particularly affected by this. Why is that?

UNGER: Because women are oftentimes—certainly upon marriage many women change their names. So they may not realize that in the past while they’ve been able to vote without a problem, if the name on the voter rolls is different from what the name is on their drivers license or whatever is allowed as a voter ID under their state’s law, these women may not be able to vote. It’s also—it applies to people who have been—anybody who’s ever changed their name, frankly, from the date of birth, okay, from their birth certificate—which, parenthetically, is also a problem because there are a lot of people who do not have a copy and cannot get a copy of a birth certificate. Until relatively recently, African-Americans born in the South did not have a birth certificate. They just didn’t issue one. Or people had a birth certificate that was in a building that burned down or, you know, was stolen from them in their purse as—. In any event, it’s—but women are disproportionately impacted because of name change.

JAY: Right. Well, the majority if not, I think, all 31 states have Republican governors, and I guess the idea here is the poor are less likely to be able to navigate all the problems of getting this ID. And the allegation, at least, is that Republicans don’t think they’re going to get a lot of votes of the poor. But I have to say I don’t think the Democrats have been very strong or putting anywhere—that much effort into registering people for voting either. I know the poor generally will vote more for the Democrats, but it’s always boggled my mind—or maybe not, ’cause it’s not like this last administration of President Obama has been that great for the poor anyway—maybe they’re not—maybe neither party’s really all that interested in whether the poor vote or not. But I know you’re trying to be diplomatic and you don’t want to get into this kind of piece of the discussion, so let’s just get back to—I’ll do the editorializing. You can talk about getting people to the DMV. So, just finally, what do you think people should be doing about this?

UNGER: Okay. Well, first of all, if I could just clarify, there are basically five groups of people who are most vulnerable. Older Americans. Older Americans do not—many do not drive, don’t have a drivers license. People of color. Young adults oftentimes don’t have a drivers license, or they’re going to college in another state, so they wouldn’t have a drivers license in that state. People with disabilities, as well as people with low income.

So our pledge to take a friend to the DMV is—again, Please, this is reach out to your grandmother, your sister who’s going to college in another state, your neighbor who has disabilities who could be a returning veteran from Afghanistan, your best friend, and indeed it could be yourself who needs to get a voter ID and who—it’s important to reach out. There are organizations on the ground that are helping, and we want to help you get your voter ID and to help others.

JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us, Kathleen.

UNGER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Kathleen Unger is the Founder and President of VoteRiders. She is an active attorney who wasa Vice President of Universal Studios. Ms. Unger's political experience includes co-chairing a Congressional campaign and her devotion to election protection throughout the past ten years.