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Voter ID laws in the United States

A voter ID law is a law that requires some form of identification in order to vote or receive a ballot for an election.

In the United States, voter ID laws are in place in 34[1] states.[2] At the federal level, the 2002 Help America Vote Act requires a voter ID for all new voters in federal elections who registered by mail and who did not provide a driver's license number or the last four digits of a Social Security number that was matched against government records.[3]


  • Push for photo ID requirements 1
  • History 2
  • State-by-state requirements 3
  • Studies and analysis 4
  • Laws by State 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7

Push for photo ID requirements

Twelve states, including the battleground state of Virginia, now require voters to show some form of photo identification (see table below), with approximately thirteen other states pursuing similar legislation. Some of the states that were pursuing new photo identification requirements were legally bound to apply for Federal Preclearance prior to enacting any new election laws. Federal Preclearance stems from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court struck down Section 4(b) of the Act, which contains the formula determining which states are required to seek preclearance, as unconstitutional based on current conditions, saying it was rational and needed at the time it was enacted but is no longer an accurate formula, based on the changing demographics of the country. In effect, federal preclearance is no longer a requirement until its formula can be deemed as constitutional, and states that had passed photo identification requirements but had not received federal preclearance were allowed to immediately take effect.[4]


Voter ID Laws go back to 1950 when South Carolina became the first state to start requesting identification from voters at the polls. The identification document did not have to include a picture; any document with the name of the voter sufficed. In 1970, Hawaii joined in requiring ID, and Texas a year later. Florida was next in 1977, and Alaska in 1980 to become the first five states in the United States to request identification of some sort from voters at the polls. [5]

In 1999, Virginia Governor Help America Vote Act into law, which required all first-time voters in federal elections to show photo or non-photo ID upon either registration or arrival at the polling place.[9]

In 2004, Arizona passed a law requiring voters to bring a state-issued photo ID to the polling place. Similar proposals were discussed in various other states and were passed in some cases. In several states a person's citizenship status is noted on their photo ID.[10][11]

Indiana passed a law in 2005 requiring a photo ID be shown by all voters before casting ballots.[12] Civil rights groups in Indiana launched a lawsuit, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, that reached the Supreme Court in 2008. The Court ruled that the law was constitutional, paving the way for expanded laws in other states.[13][14]

In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) (WI Act 23) and Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) enacted similar laws. Texas Governor Rick Perry placed a voter ID bill as an "emergency item" in 2011, allowing legislators to rush it through the process.[15] Jurisdiction over Texas election procedure had been given to the Department of Justice, which was required to pre-clear the law for approval. The Texas law recognized government issued photo identification and weapons permits but not college IDs, raising the criticism that the law was unfavorable to young voters, who trend liberal, while favorable to gun owners, who trend conservative.[16] Rhode Island passed a voter ID law in 2011, and it is the only state with a Democratic-controlled legislature to do so.[17] In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley (R) enacted a law requiring government-issued IDs at the polls, which included provisions for the issuance of free IDs; Haley made a one-time offer to arrange for voter ID applicants to be driven to issuing locations.[18] The ID requirement was blocked by the Justice Department.[19] Wisconsin's Voter ID law provided free IDs to people who did not have them. In practice, state employees at the DMV were instructed to provide the IDs for free only if people specifically asked to have their fee waived. The requirement to show photo ID had been declared in violation of the Wisconsin Constitution and blocked by state and federal judges, then those decisions were overturned by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and later the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. Weeks later, the U.S. Supreme Court again blocked the law for 2014.

Pennsylvania's voter ID law allowed various forms of photo identification cards, including those held by drivers, government employees, in-state college students, and residents of elder-care facilities. Voters who do not possess these forms of identification can obtain voting-only photo IDs issued by the Pennsylvania Department of State through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).[20] A judicial order on October 2, 2012 blocked enforcement of Pennsylvania's law until after the 2012 Presidential election. Following a trial in the summer of 2013 and a six-month delay, Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley struck down Pennsylvania's voter ID law as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters on January 17, 2014. Required IDs were only available through 71 PennDOT Drivers Licensing Centers across the state. Five of the 71 DLCs are located in Philadelphia, nine counties have no DLCs at all, and DLCs are openly only one day per week in nine counties and two days per week thirteen counties. The Pennsylvania Department of State provided too little access, no financial support to providing IDs to those without access, and no alternatives to obtaining the required IDs. Judge McGinley found that this leaves about half of Pennsylvania without DLCs for five days a week, imposing a significant barrier to obtaining Pennsylvania's "free ID".[21] Photo IDs are not required to vote in PA.[22]

Voters in Minnesota rejected a voter ID proposal on the 2012 general election ballot by a margin of 54-46%.[23] It is the only such ballot defeat for a voter ID law in the country.

VoteRiders, a California-based nonprofit group that tries to secure voting rights for citizens around the country,[24] hosted its first Voter ID Clinic in Houston on September 21, 2013.[25]

State-by-state requirements

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides a web page with ID requirements for voting in each state.[26]

  Strict photo ID
  Photo ID (non-Strict)
  Strict non-photo ID required
  Non-photo ID required (non strict)
  No ID required to vote at ballot box

Then NCSL web site distinguishes strict from non-strict as follows:

In the "strict" states, a voter cannot cast a valid ballot without first presenting ID. Voters who are unable to show ID at the polls are given a provisional ballot. Those provisional ballots are kept separate from the regular ballots. If the voter returns to election officials within a short period of time after the election (generally a few days) and presents acceptable ID, the provisional ballot is counted. If the voter does not come back to show ID, that provisional ballot is never counted.[26]

In states with non-strict voter ID laws, other methods of validation are allowed; this varies by state. Possible alternatives are: signing an affidavit, having a poll worker vouch for voter, having election officials verify a voter's identity after the vote is cast, or having the voter return an inquiry mailed to their reported address. In states with strict ID laws, the voter is required to take additional action after the provisional ballot is cast to verify ID.

The NCSL places state-level voter ID laws in one of the following categories:

Strict photo ID in effect: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In addition, North Carolina and Wisconsin have strict photo ID laws that are not yet in effect.

Photo ID in effect: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, and South Dakota.

Strict non-photo ID in effect: Arizona, North Dakota, and Ohio.

Non-photo ID in effect: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington.

No ID required at polling place: California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C. do not require ID to vote.

Studies and analysis

A 2005 report by Jimmy Carter and James Baker concluded that concerns of both those who support and oppose strengthened voter ID laws were legitimate. It recommended voter ID requirements be enacted, to be slowly phased in over a period of five years, and accompanied by the issuance of free ID cards provided by mobile ID vans that would visit traditionally underserved communities.[27]

In 2007, a report prepared by the staff of the federal Election Assistance Commission found that, among experts, "there is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud".[28] The report was based on research conducted by Job Serebov, Republican elections lawyer, and Tova Wang, voting expert from the Century Foundation.[28] The final version released to the public, however, stated that there was "a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud."[28] Democrats charged that the commission, with a Republican majority, had altered the conclusion for political reasons, which the commission denied.[28]

In 2011, the civil rights group Indiana had not led to lower turnout of minorities and concluded that Democratic concerns about this "are probably overstated".[30]

A 2011 study by New York University's Brennan Center claimed that of the US population that is of voting age, 11% lack government-issued photo IDs.[31] The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, disputed the methodology of the study, citing a question in which 14 percent of respondents said they had both a U.S. birth certificate and naturalization papers.[32]

Public opinion polls have shown strong support for voter ID laws amongst voters in the United States. A 2011 Rasmussen poll found that 75% of likely voters “believe voters should be required to show photo identification, such as a driver’s license, before being allowed to vote.”[33] A 2012 Fox News poll showed 70% of voters supported requiring an ID to vote, and 26% were opposed. Voter ID laws were supported by 52% of Democrats, 72% of independents and 87% of Republicans.[34]

A study by the Congressional Research Service concluded that in the absence of systematic risk analyses, it is difficult to determine what points in the election process—voter registration, voting systems, polling place location and hours, pollworker training, voter identification, vote tabulation, or other steps—actually involve the greatest potential risks to election integrity and therefore what priorities would be most effective for reducing those risks.[35]

Laws by State

State Original Date Enacted Type of Law Key Dates and Notes
Alabama 2003 Photo ID [36] Law tightened in 2011 to require photo ID as of 2014[37][38] But still has not obtained federal preclearance[39] In 2013, Attorney General Strange believes that the Photo ID law can now be implemented in 2014 due to the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder.[40]
Alaska Photo ID Rep. Bob Lynn drafting a bill to implement Photo ID law as of December 2012[41]
Arizona 2004 Non Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling places as of 2013[42]
Arkansas 2013 Photo ID Photo ID bill passed by lawmakers in 2013, and survived a veto by the Governor. On May 2, 2014, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled the Photo ID bill unconstitutional, but stayed his ruling pending an appeal.[43]
California In most cases, California voters are not required to show identification before they cast ballots.[44]
Colorado 2003 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places as of 2013.[45]
Connecticut Non Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places.[46]
Delaware Non Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places as of 2013.[47]
Florida 1977 Photo ID Photo ID required when voting in person.[48]
Georgia 1977 Strict Photo ID Existing law tightened in 2005 to require a photo ID; In 2006, passed a law providing for the issuance of voter ID cards at no cost to registered voters who do not have a driver's license or state-issued ID card. Photo ID was required to vote in the 2012 elections.[49]
Hawaii 1978 Photo ID Photo ID required when voting in person.[50][51]
Idaho 2010 Non-Strict Photo ID Voters may sign a Personal Identification Affidavit if they do not possess a Photo ID at the polls.[52]
Illinois Republican Senators authoring a bill for Photo ID.[53]
Indiana 2005 Strict Photo ID Photo ID required when voting in person, enacted in 2008 after Supreme Court clearance.[54]
Iowa Photo ID Iowa Senate did not pass a Photo ID bill.[55]
Kansas 2011 Strict Photo ID Photo ID required for in person voting, registration requires proof of citizenship, i.e., passport, birth certificate.[56]
Kentucky A citizen may vote if they have Photo ID, or if a precinct officer can vouch for the voter.[57]
Louisiana Non Photo ID Voters may use non-photographic identification at the polling place.[58]
Maine Photo ID No ID needed at polling place if registered to vote at least one day prior to election.[59]
Maryland 2013 Photo ID Republicans sponsored a House Bill requiring Photo ID in 2013.[60]
Massachusetts Non Photo ID Non-photographic ID is accepted at polling stations.[61]
Michigan Passed in 1996, but ruled invalid until a State Supreme Court ruling in 2007. Voters are requested to show photo ID or sign a statement saying they do not have valid ID in their possession at the time. Either way, the voter will not be turned away.[62]
Minnesota Non Photo ID Non-photographic ID is accepted at polling stations.[63]
Mississippi 2011 Strict Photo ID Governor signed Photo ID bill into law in 2012. The bill will now be required to go through Pre-Clearance check from the federal government.[64] Voting Rights Act Ruling in 2013 clears the way for Mississippi to enact new Photo ID requirement in 2014.[65]
Missouri 2002 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID In 2006, the existing law was tightened to require photo ID. In 2006, State Supreme Court blocks law. In 2013, State House passes Voter ID law, needs to be approved by State Senate, and voters in November 2014 elections.[66]
Montana 2003 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID Montana Voter ID Bill killed in 2013.[67]
Nebraska Photo ID Lawmakers are revisiting a Photo ID bill in 2013.[68]
Nevada Photo ID Secretary of State sponsors a bill for Photo ID in 2012.[69]
New Hampshire 2012 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID NH Senate working on a Photo ID bill in 2013.[70]
New Jersey Non Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at the polls.[71]
New Mexico 2008 Law Repealed In 2008, the existing voter ID law was relaxed, and now allows a voter to satisfy the ID requirement by stating his/her name, address as registered, and year of birth.
New York Non Photo ID Non-photographic ID accepted at polling stations[72]
North Carolina 2013 Strict Photo ID (2016) In 2013, the state House passed a bill that requires voters to show a photo ID when they go to the polls by 2016.[73]
North Dakota 2003 Strict Non-Photo ID ND Senate passes bill that would require Photo identification OR a person with Photo ID to vouch for a voter without ID. 2003 law amended in 2013, and moved to a strict non-photo requirement. [74]
Oklahoma 2009 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID Oklahoma voters approved a voter Photo ID proposal placed on the ballot by the Legislature in 2010. The only non-photo form of ID accepted at the polls is the voter's registration card.[75]
Ohio 2006 Strict Non-Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling stations.[76] With strong Republican majorities in Ohio House and Senate, the Photo ID bill is expected to be revisited.[77]
Oregon Mail Ballots Only Oregon has no polling stations, and ballots are mailed in. Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted for voting registration. Information required on voting ballots, such as the last 4 digits of ones Social Security Number or Drivers License Number, could not be referenced.[78]
Pennsylvania Photo ID Law struck down by Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley on January 17, 2014 as "violative of the constitutional rights of state voters" after first full evidentiary trial since Shelby v Holder. The law was found, by preponderance of evidence, to place undue burden on hundreds of thousands of already registered voters due to a lack of infrastructure and state support for obtaining required IDs.[21][79]
Rhode Island 2014 Non-Strict Photo ID RI requires Photo ID at the polls in 2014.[80]
South Carolina 1988 Photo ID Law tightened in 2011.[37] U.S. Justice Department rejected South Carolina's law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters.[19] On October 10, 2012, the U.S. District Court upheld South Carolina's Voter ID law, though the law won't take effect till 2013.[81][82] In March 2013, all voters were required to show Photo ID when voting at the primaries.[83]
South Dakota 2003 Non-Strict Photo ID If a voter does not possess a photo ID at the polling place, then the voter may complete an affidavit of personal identification.[84]
Tennessee 2011 Strict Photo ID Law tightened in 2011.[37] Tennessee voters were required to show Photo ID during the 2012 elections.[85]
Texas 1990 Photo ID Law tightened in 2011.[37] U.S. Justice Department rejected the Texas law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters.[86] The 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder struck down the Justice Department's ability to reject the Texas law.[87] On October 9, 2014, a U.S. District Judge struck down the law.[88] On October 14 2014, a panel for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a preliminary injunction against the ruling of the District Court, which was confirmed 6-3 by the U.S. Supreme Court on October 18. Therefore, the state will implement this law for the 2014 elections.[89]
Utah 2009 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling stations.[90]
Vermont No ID required to vote at polling stations.[91]
Virginia 1996 Strict Photo ID Lawmakers pass Voter ID bill in 2010, and the then Governor implements it in a way that allows non-photo ID. After the 2012 election, the Virginia legislature passed a new law stipulating that non-photo ID's cannot be used. The then Governor signs the Photo ID requirement into law in 2013. The law would have needed to pass "pre-clearance" by the U.S. Department of Justice under the 1965 Voting Rights Act (certain states and jurisdictions, mostly in Southern states were required to wait for pre-clearance before changing voting laws).[92] U.S. Supreme Court Voting Rights Act ruling on June 26 removed section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for Virginia to enact the new Photo ID requirement in 2014.[93]
Washington 2005 Non-Strict, Non-Photo ID Washington has no polling stations. Ballots are mailed in.[94]
West Virginia Photo ID Republicans are preparing a Photo ID bill in 2013.[95]
Wisconsin Photo ID Following two 2012 rulings by Dane County circuit judges that blocked implementation of the 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 law requiring Voter Id, on July 31, 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the law.[96] On September 12, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to be put into effect just 54 days before the 2014 elections, overturning a previous ruling in federal court.[97] On October 9, 2014, the the state was again barred from implementing the Voter Id law for 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court.[98]
Wyoming No ID needed at polling stations.[99]
Washington, D.C. No ID needed at polling stations.[100] }

See also


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