'Spread the Vote' Intiative Gives More Than Just ID's

May 8, 2019

After West Virginia’s voter ID law went into effect last year an organization focused on increasing voter registration and voter turnout launched a new initiative in the state to help people gain proper identification. Spread the Vote now operates in nine states, and aims not only to give people a chance to vote, but also a better chance in life.

Voting, getting a job, buying a house, flying, staying in a hotel -- all require some official, legal form of identification. That requirement might not seem like a big deal to most people, but not everyone has an ID.

As West Virginia Spread the Vote director Peshka Calloway points out, there are many reasons someone might not have an official form of identification.

"We work with clients who have experienced house fires, we’re looking to work with clients who have lost their documents in floods," Calloway explained, "because we’ve seen a significant amount of floods here in West Virginia."

Spread the Vote, which launched in West Virginia earlier this year, recently began a new initiative aiming to help those without ID’s obtain the documents needed to get a federal ID.

The initiative is called Project ID. There are six chapters in West Virginia. Clients get help figuring out what documents they need, and are guided through each step to acquire those documents. Project ID pays for the whole process.

Calloway is passionate about the work. She said she lost important documents once herself.

“I’m a survivor of domestic violence. I left my abuser and left mine and my son’s vital documents behind. So I know the difficulty of navigating the bureaucracy of trying to prove who you are,” Calloway said.

But the passion doesn’t stop with Calloway. More than 20 volunteers are working across the state as part of Project ID.

Attendees of the Northern Panhandle launch party pose for a selfie.
Credit Corey Knollinger / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

One of those volunteers is Rosemary Ketchum, the Northern Panhandle chapter leader. Ketchum loves the tangible difference she's able to make working with Project ID. 

“You can literally quantify in numbers the change you’re making,” Ketchum said. “You can say ‘I ordered fifteen birth certificates, and I have twelve I.D.’S on their way.’ And that’s real change in people’s lives.”

Calloway explained, if someone hasn’t had an ID for a while, getting one can be life-changing.

“I have a man who hasn’t had a photo ID since 2013, think about that life. Right, it’s 2019. Think about all the years and all the barriers,” Calloway said. “He told me he had difficulty opening a bank account in his name. He can’t get a Greyhound bus pass without an ID. You know this life without it, people don’t think about it until they lose it.”

Project ID will be expanding with the launches of two new chapters in the coming weeks.

A chapter in Huntington begins work on May 25th, and the Beckley chapter is scheduled to launch on June 3rd.