The troubling new voting laws that some states are requiring make me glad I live in Massachusetts where laws like that don't affect me. I don't have to provide a photo ID or forms of identification when I go to vote. I can walk into my polling place and simply give my name and street address, and I am good to go.
But in a way, those new laws in other states DO affect me because they are making it harder and harder for women to vote. And, as we have witnessed lately, women's votes can make a big difference in elections.
In Texas, many women are more than likely to support Wendy Davis who is running for governor. But the new law requires all voters to provide a photo ID that shows their current name as it exactly matches their birth certificate name or a form showing the name change. Without an original copy of proof of name change, a voter will be turned away.
As Kate McDonough wrote in Salon.com last week, 34 percent of "voting-age women do not have a document that currently reflects their current legal name. Among transgender women and men, the number is 41 percent. That is a lot of people who no longer meet the current requirements, and who may be hard-pressed to get a valid ID in time for the November election."
I walked the traditional path when I got married and took my husband's name, so the name on my photo ID does not match the name on my birth certificate. Hmm -- I know my marriage certificate is around here somewhere. Maybe my birth certificate is with it.
Elisabeth Genn, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program stated, "While some women do have access to the entire chain of documents that connects their current name with birth name -- including birth certificates and marriage licenses -- that's not always the case." In Texas, if a voter needs a new birth or marriage certificate for identification purposes, she has to drive to the state capital to get one -- or she could wait a couple of months to have it mailed to her and pay $40 for the mailing and copying costs. Of course, she would already have to have some forms of identification to do that. Otherwise, she would have to drive 250 miles to get a new ID card.
As Natasha Hakimi points out on truthdig.com, "The extra forms of identification, extra fees, extra travel and, in many cases, exorbitant waiting times mean that the acquiring the documents necessary to legally vote amounts to a poll tax that applies only to women." But Texas lawmakers say these are small barriers, they just happen to be ones that most men eligible to vote don't encounter since they don't typically change their names when they get married.
It is more than likely that on Nov. 5 in Texas, thousands of women will walk into their voting place and find out they are not allowed to vote because they didn't know about the changes in the law.
Last June, when the Supreme Court voted down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, "a civil rights law that designates states that must have changes to their electoral laws cleared by the federal government or in federal court," it opened the door for states like Texas to start erecting those "small barriers" that keep people from exercising their right to vote.
I am glad I live in Massachusetts where we would never think of disenfranchising voters. But I am a U.S. citizen, which means I live in Texas, too.
Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.