It is an honor to feature an inspiring message—and exciting news—from Kat Calvin, the Founder and Executive Director of Spread The Vote and the Co-Founder and CEO of the Project ID Action Fund. As a lawyer, activist, and social entrepreneur, Kat has built a national organization that helps Americans obtain the IDs they need for jobs, housing, and life and gets them to go to the polls.
Six years ago I had an idea: why not start a nonprofit to help people get IDs to vote? It sounded simple enough, but of course, it was nowhere near as easy as I’d imagined.
Almost immediately, we learned a hard truth that had never occurred to us: if you don’t have the ID you need to vote, you don’t have the ID you need for jobs, housing, health care, social services, opening a bank account, and so much more. You don’t have the one thing you need to open the doors to all of the necessities to pull yourself out of poverty. IDs, we discovered, were about life.
So for the last six years my team and I at Spread The Vote + Project ID have been working every day to help people get those IDs. We’ve figured out clever ways to get birth certificates for clients with no identification, we’ve found workarounds for social security cards, we’ve driven to what feels like every DMV in the country.
By the end of the year, we will have helped 10,000 people get a government-issued photo ID. We’re proud of that number, but it’s a mere drop in the bucket next to the well over 21 million American adults who need an ID. Working one on one is great, but it’s not enough.
That’s why we started Project ID Action Fund, a 501c4 organization that could make policy changes that would enable far more than one person at a time to access an ID. And last month, we did the thing we thought would take decades: we introduced a bill to Congress to establish a free and optional Federal ID.
H.R. 8221, the IDs for an Inclusive Democracy Act, would ensure that everyone in the country can get an ID without the major expense of a DMV ID. This free and optional ID would be distributed by post offices, libraries, and even qualifying organizations. This would hugely expand access to IDs beyond just the DMV.
Think about this- in West Virginia there are 24 DMVs but 655 post offices. Those numbers are similar in every state. There are thousands more post offices and libraries across the country than DMVs so it will be much easier for vulnerable populations, people who live in rural areas, people with disabilities, and so many more groups to access them.
The ID will also be movable from state to state. One of the biggest challenges challenges that we see in our daily work is people who have moved to new states and have been unable to secure housing or access the services of food banks or shelters because they do not have an ID for their new state, are not able to acquire a birth certificate on their own, and cannot afford the new ID.
Just last week I helped a woman who had escaped a violent partner in Indiana. Like many abusers, he had locked away her documents, so the police helped her get on a flight to Los Angeles without an ID. Unfortunately, when she landed, she didn’t have the money or ability to get a California ID. She had been here for two years, homeless and unemployed, until we took her to the DMV last week. With the free Federal ID, that would not happen.
I am beyond thrilled that the Americans of Conscience Checklist has endorsed our bill. AoCC is an amazing group of incredibly caring, passionate, motivated people who are always willing to take action, as I have witnessed through your consistent support of Spread The Vote + Project ID through the years.
That’s what we’ll need to pass this bill. Please visit idforid.org to find out how you can call your Member of Congress and ask them to support this bill, to donate, and other ways to get involved.
Establishing a free Federal ID would be huge. It would be life changing for many, but really it would change this country. We can do this big thing, if we work together. Let’s go.