Originally published as an editorial in the Orlando Sentinel on December 31, 2013.
Healthy democracies demand elections that are secure, trusted, and corruption free. The problem comes with the government setting a voting requirement that the government is unwilling, or unable, to help its most vulnerable citizens meet. Across the U.S. states are increasingly requiring state-issued photo ID to vote. For the longest time, I thought this was a reasonable request. Everyone has a driver’s license, right?
Actually, no. The cost and proof standards of a state-issued ID are more than the poor can reasonably handle. Since 9-11 more supporting documents are required to prove one’s identity in order to obtain such a state ID. Did you know that Florida law once allowed a family Bible, or a friendship with the clerk to be enough verification to issue an ID? No longer. Today in Florida you need $31, a certified birth certificate, proof of social security number, and proof of address. Doable for me; impossible for tens of thousands who would then be unable to vote for their mayor, congressman, or governor were Florida to adopt such voter ID standards.
The cry goes out that citizens are being denied their rights because the barriers to getting a state-issued ID, in the name of security and immigration control, begin to bring to mind the literacy tests of ages past. When a state won’t assist with providing the very ID they require to vote, what do you do? You look to an organization like IDignity.
IDignity is a smart, strategic, and faith based organization doing what most government agencies cannot or will not do. After five years of diligent outreach in Orlando, IDignity has corralled our local government agencies to meet the tremendous identification demand. Six of our last eight monthly events have not turned any clients away. In the last three years not one homeless man or woman in Central Florida has died as a John or Jane Doe. IDignity is now turning more attention to other hidden pockets of our population in need of identification assistance: foster children, homebound elderly, victims of domestic abuse, the incarcerated, and the mentally disabled.
Resonate with this holiday season of giving, IDignity is now empowering other communities to solve these issues for themselves. Besides three Central Florida satellites, we are working with leaders in Miami and Houston. Recent grants from national foundations, and thankfully Bank of America, will make 2014 and beyond years of great potential and growth for us.
IDignity holds a unique position providing a non-political, non-governmental contribution to the Voter ID debate. As the complexity and ferocity of Voter ID issues only increase in coming years, be mindful that a Central Florida effort has a part of the answer for the nation.
Dr. Case Thorp is outgoing, founding president of the IDignity Board of Directors, and the Associate Pastor for Mission & Evangelism at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.