Voter Suppression and DWB

I got a ticket on Wednesday for changing lanes without signalling. (Yes, Chicago’s coffers are in need of a refill.) Because I’m no longer a motor club member, I no longer have a bond card, the thing you can give the cop instead of your license. So she took my license, and now I’m driving on the ticket.

But here’s the thing: I want to vote early, and to do so in Chicago I’m required to show a government-issued photo i.d.–like, oh, say, my driver’s license, which I won’t have back until I complete traffic safety school and mail them $167. And even if I do that today, there’s very little chance I will receive my license back in the mail before November 6, much less in time to vote early.

Now, as it happens I have a passport, so I’ll be able to get around this difficulty. But when I realized the impact my ticket could have on my ability to vote, it occurred to me that this is another way in which voter i.d. laws help suppress voting by minority-group members, the young and the elderly.

We’re all familiar with the traffic offense of DWB: Driving While Black or Driving While Brown. Nonwhite motorists are more likely to be stopped for moving violations than whites, and more likely to be ticketed when they’re stopped. The ones who, like me, don’t have bond cards–whether because they can’t afford motor club membership or they just never thought of it–will have to surrender their licenses; and then, unless they happen to have passports (also less likely, statistically, than among white people) they won’t be able to vote in states requiring voter i.d. So combine discriminatory policing with photo i.d. laws and you’ve got a perfect tool for keeping black and brown people from the polls.

The elderly, meanwhile, are more likely to be stopped for traffic violations because they’re actually driving badly; but once again, that shouldn’t deprive seniors of the franchise. And the same can be said for young drivers, who may be careless behind the wheel but are entitled to vote if they’re 18 or over.

So the next time someone tells you that voter i.d. laws are fine because “everyone has a driver’s license,” ask if s/he’s ever had to drive on a ticket. Then mention that this commonplace experience would mean the inability to vote, and see what s/he has to say.

Author: Kelly Kleiman

Kelly Kleiman is a freelance writer on the arts, feminism, travel and social justice. Her reportage and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and Christian Science Monitor, among other dailies; in magazines, including In These Times and Dance; in the alternative press; on the BBC; and on Chicago Public Radio, where she’s one of the “Dueling Critics” and a contributor to the Onstage Backstage theater blog. She is also a consultant to charities and editor and publisher of The Nonprofiteer, a blog about charity, philanthropy and nonprofit management. She holds undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Chicago.

41 thoughts on “Voter Suppression and DWB”

  1. I have had a license in several states, but I have never heard of police taking your license for a simple ticket. Is this particular to Illinois or Chicago?

    Also, are these bond cards only available via the motor club? That would be odd, if one private entity gets the right to issue such things to their members.

    Just asking. This is an interesting post, but some of these rules you have in Chicago seem very odd to me.

    1. I just looked it up, and this is a bizarre practice in Illinois that seems to exist nowhere else.

      I strongly disagree with the new voter ID laws that are being pushed, but here I almost feel like defending them. The problem in this case is not the voter ID laws, but the idiotic Illinois law that allows cops to take your license for violations.

      1. So what happens if I (a driver not licensed in Illinois) am pulled over by an Illinois trooper? Can he (or she) confiscate my license?

        1. When, as an out of state driver, I was ticketed for speeding in Chicago about 5 years ago, the officer didn’t attempt to take my license.

    2. I’m glad few of the rest of you experience the same system we have in Chicago, but stand by my point: wherever such a system is implemented in tandem with the photo-i.d. requirement, it discriminates against groups of Democratic voters.

      1. Your point is correct. The fix should be two-fold: ending/removing of the voter ID requirements. IL joining the rest of the world and getting rid of license confiscating as part of the ticketing process. (I had never heard of this before your post. It may be one of the stupidest things I have ever heard of. “Driving on the ticket” is insane. What happens if you leave the state? Have to fly?)

  2. Same question as tsts. I’ve lived in both Massachusetts and Virginia, and I’ve never heard of this “driving on a ticket” business before. Getting a ticket in most places does not involve surrendering your license (except perhaps for DUI offenses).

  3. Massachusetts and Connecticut: same question. In MA your license can get suspended or revoked for a sufficiently severe violation, or a sufficient number of violations, but there’s a hearing, and you can get a replacement state ID. Maybe if you’re actually arrested and jailed they can seize it, but I’m not sure.

  4. Think about it. Four years ago, we had an economic crash that wiped out somewhere between a quarter to 40% of the world’s wealth, depending on whom you believe. The crash was caused by an utterly disgusting and irresponsible class of Wall Street paper-pushers who loaded the world up with deadly leverage in pursuit of their own bonuses, then ran screaming to the government for a handout (and got it) the instant it all went south.

    These people represent everything that ordinarily repels the American voter. They mostly come from privileged backgrounds. Few of them have ever worked with their hands, or done anything like hard work. They not only don’t oppose the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs, they enthusiastically support it, financing the construction of new factories in places like China and India.

    They’ve relentlessly lobbied the government to give themselves tax holidays and shelters, and have succeeded at turning the graduated income tax idea on its head by getting the IRS to accept a sprawling buffet of absurd semantic precepts, like the notions that “capital gains” and “carried interest” are somehow not the same as “income.”

    The people in this group inevitably support every war that America has even the slimmest chance of involving itself in, but neither they nor their children ever fight in these conflicts. They are largely irreligious and incidentally they do massive amounts of drugs, from cocaine on down, but almost never suffer any kind of criminal penalty for their behavior.

    That last thing I would say is probably inappropriate, except for the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor (and mostly black and Hispanic) kids get tossed by cops every year (would you believe 684,000 street stops in New York alone in 2011?) In the same city where Wall Street’s finest work, and those kids do real time for possession of anything from a marijuana stem to an empty vial. How many Wall Street guys would you think would fill the jails if the police spent even one day doing aggressive, no-leniency stop-and-frisk checks outside the bars in lower Manhattan? How many Lortabs and Adderalls and little foil-wraps of coke or E would pop out of those briefcases?

  5. Same question: California and Massachusetts: I’ve been ticketed in both places (though not for many years) and have never heard of surrendering a license. Nor do I recall anything about this when I had a license in Tennessee. This policy may be unique to Illinois–which is not a swing state.

    1. Whether it’s a swing state is of course irrelevant to the right (and maybe duty) to vote. And there’s another pragmatic issue. At present there’s a fair chance that Obama will carry the Electoral College and lose the popular vote. Any chance the Republicans would play nice like Gore and the Democrats in 2000? No, they’d use the fact for four years to deny Obama’s legitimacy. So every vote counts.

    2. Ditto for California, Maryland, Arizona, and Minnesota. I think maybe South Dakota too, but I might be conflating that with the MN ticket. (Hey, I’ve been driving for several decades.) No one has ever confiscated my license.

    3. I can tell you for a fact that cops in California cannot take your license for changing lanes without signalling. I think that they can take your license for a DUI arrest, but in my experience few actually do this.

  6. This seems to be some bizarre Chicago-only practice, completely unknown elsewhere. (What if you got a ticket while visiting Chicago, and needed to fly home or check into a hotel the next day? Would the Chicago police ask for money on the spot?)

    Voter identification laws applying to Illinois should ban it, reducing both voter fraud and Chicago corruption.

    1. what if you get your wallet stolen on the way to the polls. How do you vote then? Or do we routinely deny the right to vote to victims of crime?

      1. “We” don’t deny crime victims their voting rights, but criminals routinely do. It can be as straightforward as slashing the tires on get-out-the-vote buses (google Sowande Omokunde). Victims of car theft or kidnapping or assault just before Election Day also have their voting rights violated by criminals. (Arguably, every murder victim’s voting rights are violated forever; we still don’t let dead people vote. Yes, I know, make your own Cook County joke.)

        But elections don’t magically end the minute the polls close. If a candidate wins by two votes, and the opponent can find three people who can swear that they had their wallet or car stolen, tires slashed, or lights punched out, but would have voted for him, it’s time to file a lawsuit.

        1. The laws regarding IDs add an obstacle which is triggered in some circumstances.
          you quibble with me, argue that it’s the criminal denying rights.
          I say it’s both.

          And the nonsense of cars stolen – the lack of a car is not a legal barrier. The voter can hitch a ride, get a taxi, etc.
          Is there such a resort if your ID is stolen?

  7. To those who above have expressed amazement at this bizzare “Chicago” license bail thing: you should get out more–or learn how to google.

    The following came up on my very first search:,, Respectively, Georgia, Mississippi and Oregon. I stopped looking after those three, but there appear to be lots more.

    This 2008 news story has a little background on Illinois and other states practices as well as problems for drivers left without photo ID.

    By the way, as someone who learned to drive in Chicago’s potholed streets it was very common to drive around for months with just a ticket and no picture license. If you got stopped for another ticket while driving on a ticket the cops would write you up more severely than if you had the license. And, the cops would count the number of staples holes in your license to decipher how many tickets you had gotten before. The solution to the hole counting, as every teenager knew, was to get a new licenses ASAP. But, of course, that cost money the more broke among us did not have. Also, the Illinois Secretary of State license offices are few and far between. One reason for many of issues, so scuttlebutt had it, was the clout of the Chicago Motor Club which issued the alternative bail cards as part of its membership, be a member, keep your license.

    Anyhow, back to the OP’s point, there is a real, not just Illinois, issue here.

    1. The article from the Chicago Tribune that you posted says explicitly that Illinois is one of the few states that regularly takes licenses as a form of bail. Which would explain why most people haven’t heard of it. So while maybe not a bizarre Chicago thing, it is a bizarre Illinois thing.

    2. Actually few states use a driver’s license for security for a mere traffic violation as noted in the Chicago Tribune article you cite.

      Oregon only uses a driver’s license for security to secure appearance for a traffic crime — basically a DUI. ORS 810.300 ( A traffic crime is an offense that is punishable by jail time. ORS 801.545 ( It is not ordinarily used as security for a traffic violation, which is an offense punishable by a fine but not jail time. ORS 801.557 ( I lived in Oregon, and no one I knew was required to use a driver’s license as security.

      The Georgia statute you cite allows a police officer to hold a driver’s license while writing a traffic citation, but the license is returned with the ticket.

      Like Illinois, officers in Mississippi can use a driver’s license as security for any traffic offense. But according to the Chicago Tribune article they rarely do.

      So Illinois may still be an outlier in that it routinely uses a driver’s license security for even a traffic violation.

      1. RE Georgia: Not true. The police will take your license until the matter is settled. Same for Missouri I believe.

        1. Since 2006? It looks like the old rule (Rule 570-15-.01) was repealed in 2006 and this new rule (375-3-3-.13) was promulgated then. The new rule seems to specifically require the police to return a license to the driver as soon as the ticket is signed, unless there is something very strange about statutory construction in Georgia.

          1. Happy to say it’s been at least that long since I’ve been ticketed. So I guess things have changed.

    3. Not so fast. You list Oregon but the police certainly don’t keep your license for changing lanes illegally here. Maybe for some serious offenses they do but not for the overwhelming majority of infractions.

      1. Gosh, “thanks” for all these nit-picking “corrections.”

        I do not claim to have made some profound research discovery. Only a very quick google with the first three results that came up.

        If you want to claim this doesn’t happen (except in “bizarre” Illinois) based on personal experience–just not very convincing.

        I’m not going to make a fifty state survey on a weekend (or any other) night.

        But, it is clear that this happens in places other than Illinois and that it is a problem for those claiming that “everyone” has a picture government ID. Maybe that’s what’s behind some the nit picking?

        PS Gotta love all those quotation marks I used above–I think I learned it from the old Chicago Tribune which used to put things like “liberal,” “progressive,” and, if referring to Democrats, “patriotic” in quotes along with “our friend” when referring to the U.K.

        1. Ummm, I think folks were merely pointing out that your comparison was a bit apples-to-oranges.

          Perhaps if you were to avoid the kind of attitude intoned by such phrases as “you should get out more–or learn how to google”, people would be less inclined to pick nits with you.

      2. It’s illegal to drive in the state of Georgia without a license. When stopped, the officer takes your license to write the ticket and then returns it right then. Regarding voter suppression, you can get a government issued ID easily with proper verification. I know people that have them.

        1. In Pennsylvania, at the trial about the new voter ID laws, ample evidence was presented that one could not, in fact, get a government ID issued easily in many cases, unless your definition of “easily” includes having to take two busses and wait three hours.

        2. And if your ID is confiscated on the way to the polls, you have no time to get an ID, do you.
          Or if you lose your ID the day before.

          Your right to vote is not to be contingent on avoiding a ticket for a misdemeanor.

  8. Yes this is a bizarre Illinois thing. Sure, there might be another state or two that also takes your licenses for a petty traffic ticket and holds it in bond, but they are the minority here. It is a strange practice.

    Speaking of strange practices, in Ohio if you get a speeding ticket sometimes the state trooper will demand payment on the spot. And has a credit card reader in his car. I’ve seen it happen.

      1. Then you go to jail until there’s a hearing. Pennsylvania too. They “have” to do this because the fines for speeding are so large. Not a lot of motorists carry $300-400 around in cash.

  9. Kelly, I get your larger point about voter suppression. It’s an important point and I’d prefer not to veer too far off-topic by focusing attention on the Illinois practice of requiring the surrender of a driver’s license for any infraction, nor to chastise you for your particular infraction, but your post raises a sub-topic that is very important to me and piques my curiosity with regards to the effectiveness of stern responses to minor commonplace infractions. I also get the intention that the license is surrendered as a surety bond (hence the “bond card” exclusion), rather than as a corrective consequence.

    As a life-long biker, I consider effective signaling a crucial component of a safe and proper lane-change. By “effective” I don’t mean a single flash in between lanes, I mean a signaling of intention sufficiently in advance of any movement toward the intended lane (or abrupt change in speed in the case of a turn) to allow for accommodating maneuvers by any nearby traffic one may or may not be aware of. After engaging the signal, in the time one allows before initiation of the lane change, one should be checking their blind spot. It’s Mirrors, Signal, Blind Spot, (Mirrors again, if you please) then Move only when safe to do so. Sideswipes by inattentive drivers changing lanes are something every biker who rides highways learns to beware of at all times. Most people have no idea what it’s like to have a 2-ton instrument of death obliviously moving in from one direction and another already occupying the space in the other (both drivers incessantly chatting away on cell phones, of course), while traveling openly exposed without seatbelts or airbags at speeds in which accidents often result in the loss if life or limb for the rider. I’ve been in that situation, and have attended funerals and bedsides of those who weren’t so lucky, far too many times over the years. In one case, after being alerted by my horn, the driver changing lanes actually flipped me the bird and just kept coming. A close lifelong friend called me just yesterday to offer to sell me his bike because he has too much back pain to ride it any more, having suffered a broken back and collar bone two years ago in a sideswipe collision with a hit-and-run driver in the wrong lane who left him lying in a ditch, It’s only by sheer luck, quick reactions honed by early years on dirt bikes, very careful defensive driving, and a strong sense of self-preservation that I have managed to keep the rubber side down on two wheels all these years and hundreds of thousands of highway miles. I’m hoping this relatively minor inconvenience for you results in the habitual use of proper and effective signaling and all of the other habits of safe and attentive driving because you appreciate the vital importance of doing so.

    In the Kansas City area where I live and do most of my riding, turn signals are rarely used and even more rarely enforced. Perhaps my perception suffers from narrow perspective, but it seems to me that even the local police fail to signal more times than not. I don’t know what the fine is here, but $167 and traffic school seems an unusually strict response to something so commonplace. I have a certain amount of cognitive dissonance faced with this information: On the one hand, I really want to influence people’s behavior with regards to safe driving as a matter of public safety. I find myself frequently (and usually snarkily) reminding drivers from the seat of my bike that the control lever is standardized on the left side of the steering column and any four-year-old understands how to use it. I’m always finding myself wishing for better enforcement and happy to see police cars patrolling traffic (speed traps at the bottom of a long hill are another matter altogether*). On the other hand, four decades of drug war has proven to me beyond any reasonable doubt in my mind that strict enforcement of commonplace behavior is so ineffective in positively influencing that behavior as to be a complete waste of resources. So I’m curious about the effectiveness of such measures. How commonplace is enforcement? How commonplace is compliance?

    * Unless I can use it to my advantage: Last week, after avoiding a t-bone collision with a pick-up truck that blew through a 4-way stop, I turned around and got behind him. It wasn’t my fault that the guy took off like a bat out of hell when he saw my Harley in his rear-view mirror, racing downhill right into the speed trap I had just passed. Sure was fun to see those red lights flashing after him!

    1. I was on Lake Shore Drive, where bicycles are not permitted. As a fellow cyclist, I can assure you I signal before changing lanes when driving on city streets.

  10. MobiusKlein got my point: Your right to vote is not to be contingent on avoiding a ticket for a misdemeanor. And it’s likely to be if you’re not white.

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