Voter ID laws in the United States
Voter ID laws in the United States are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote in elections in the United States.
At the federal level, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires 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. Though state laws requiring some sort of identification at voting polls go back to 1950, no state required a voter to produce a government-issued photo ID as a condition for voting before the 2006 election. Indiana in 2006 became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, a law that was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court. As of September 2016, 33 states have enacted some form of voter ID requirement. Lawsuits have been filed against many of the voter ID requirements on the basis that they are discriminatory with an intent to reduce voting by traditionally Democratic constituencies. Parts of voter ID laws in several states have been overturned by courts.
Proponents of voter ID laws argue that they reduce electoral fraud while placing only little burden on voters. Opponents argue that electoral fraud is extremely rare in the United States and has been magnified as an issue to create barriers to voter participation, and that requiring voter ID in effect discriminates against minority groups and those who are less likely to possess photo IDs. Critics have argued that the barriers could result in the disenfranchisement of black, Hispanic, and other minority voters; the elderly; transgender individuals; and the poor. Research has shown that the type of voter fraud that would be prevented by voter IDs is extremely rare; research is mixed as to whether voter ID laws reduce overall turnout or minority turnout; and research has shown that Republican legislators in swing states and districts with sizable black or Hispanic populations push the hardest for voter ID laws.
There is no empirical evidence that voter fraud occurs often enough to have any plausible impact on elections. One study, commonly cited by President Trump and other Republicans, purported to show that non-citizens vote in large numbers in the United States, but the findings of the study were later shown to be driven by measurement error and have been comprehensively rebutted. The authors of the study have conceded that measurement error "may have biased our numbers", and have also rebuked President Trump for claiming that millions voted illegally in 2016.
- 1 State-by-state requirements
- 2 Push for photo ID requirements
- 3 History
- 4 Shelby v. Holder
- 5 Studies and analysis
- 6 Laws by state
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) provides a web page and a map with ID requirements for voting in each state. 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 website describes strict states 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.
In states with non-strict voter ID laws, other methods of validation are allowed, which vary 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.
The NCSL categorizes state-level voter ID laws as follows:
- Photo ID required (strict): Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina(starting 2019), Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- Photo ID requested (non-strict): Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Texas.
- Non-photo ID required (strict): Arizona, North Dakota, and Ohio.
- Non-photo ID requested (non-strict): Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.
- No ID required to vote at ballot box: California, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina(prior to 2019), Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.
Push for photo ID requirements
Since the late 20th century, the Republican Party has led efforts to create more stringent voter ID laws for the purported objective of preventing electoral fraud. 12 states now require voters to show some form of photo identification (see table below) with approximately 13 other states pursuing similar legislation. The laws were often introduced by the Republican members of ALEC and signed by Republican governors.
Some of the states that were pursuing new photo identification requirements were legally bound under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to apply for federal preclearance prior to enacting any new election laws. (One provision of the Voting Rights Act was that 13 southern states with a history of discrimination be required to obtain this federal preclearance in order to prevent further discriminatory laws from being passed.) However, in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the United States Supreme Court struck down section 4(b) of the Act, which contained the formula determining which states were required to seek preclearance, based on historic under-representation of portions of the population. They said that this section was unconstitutional as the model was not based on current conditions. It said the provision was rational and needed at the time it was enacted, but it is no longer an accurate formula based on the changing demographics of different states and the nation overall. In effect, federal preclearance is no longer a requirement; Congress would need to update this section based on current data for a new formula that is deemed constitutional. States that had passed photo identification requirements but had not received federal preclearance were allowed to have those laws immediately take effect.
The practical effect of striking out section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act in Shelby's case was that a challenge to electoral law changes in covered states could no longer be determined by a federal administrative or judicial officer, instead having to be litigated in a court of law on a case-by-case basis, a much more costly and time-consuming process.
By the end of August 2017, federal courts had struck down voter ID laws in Ohio, Texas, North Carolina and Wisconsin. All the cases are likely to be heard ultimately by the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that the legislature's ending of Ohio's "Golden Week" imposed a "modest burden" on the right to vote of African Americans and said that the state's justifications for the law "fail to outweigh that burden." This week had been a period of time when residents could "register to vote and cast an early ballot at the same location."
The Texas law was struck down because it was found to discriminate against black and Hispanic voters. A North Carolina law was overturned as "its provisions deliberately target African-Americans with almost surgical precision … in an effort to depress black turnout at the polls." North Carolina appealed to the US Supreme Court, which declined to hear the appeal, allowing the prior federal court decision to stand. Parts of Wisconsin's voter ID laws were ruled to be unconstitutional and it was advised to accept more forms of identification for the fall 2016 election cycle.
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.
In 1999, Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore attempted to start a pilot program that required voters to show IDs at the polls. His initiative was blocked by Democrats and the NAACP, and was stopped by court order. His administration had spent and mailed $275,000 worth of free voter ID cards to residents in Arlington and Fairfax counties.
Afterward Republican-dominated states have worked to pass laws for voter IDs, ostensibly to prevent "voter fraud", which studies have shown is "vanishingly rare." Opponents say that many of the provisions of such laws are a conspiracy designed to disadvantage minorities, poor and elderly, many of whom have tended in recent years to vote Democratic, so the Republicans are deriving political benefits from their voter ID campaign. In 2002, President George W. Bush signed the 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.
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.
Indiana passed a law in 2005 requiring a photo ID be shown by all voters before casting ballots. 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 ID laws in other states.
In 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (WI Act 23) and Ohio Governor John Kasich 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. 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, resulting in criticism that the law was unfavorable to young voters, who trend liberal, while favorable to gun owners, who trend conservative. Rhode Island passed a voter ID law in 2011; it is the only state with a Democratic-controlled legislature to do so.
In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley enacted a 2011 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. The ID requirement was blocked by the Justice Department.
Wisconsin's Voter ID law in 2011 provided free IDs to people who did not have them. But 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, but 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. On March 23, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the ACLU, effectively upholding the 7th Circuit's decision Wisconsin's voter ID law as constitutional.
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). 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 on January 17, 2014 as violative of the constitutional rights of state voters.
He noted that required alternative voter IDs were available only 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 have limited hours: in nine counties they are open only one day per week, and in 13 counties they are open only two days per week. The court ruled that the Pennsylvania Department of State provided too little access, no financial support to provide 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". Photo IDs are not required to vote in PA.
Voters in Minnesota rejected a voter ID proposal on the 2012 general election ballot by a margin of 54–46%. It is the only such ballot defeat for a voter ID law in the country.
Shelby v. Holder
On June 25, 2013, the US Supreme Court declared, by a 5–4 decision, in Shelby v. Holder that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was unconstitutional. Previously, states with a history of proven voter discrimination were required to obtain preclearance from a federal court before making changes to their voting laws. Section 4 of the Act contained the formula for determining which states or political subdivisions were covered by Section 5. The majority opinion argued that the formula used to determine which jurisdictions required federal oversight or preclearance had not been updated to reflect current social conditions, including a decline in institutionalized discrimination and direct voter suppression. The states previously covered under section 5 were: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, as well as parts of California, Florida, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota. By ruling these restrictions to be unconstitutional, it rendered section 5 unenforceable under the current formula.
Since the Court's decision, several states passed new voter ID laws and other restrictions on registration and on voting. Within 24 hours of the Shelby v. Holder verdict, Texas, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Alabama, three states that were previously covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 began to implement or stated intentions to implement strict photo ID policies. Texas' proposed policy required a voter to show their passport, driver license or other form of photo ID before they could cast their ballot. However, this policy was found to be discriminatory to black and hispanic voters, and so it was adapted to include the provision for voters to be able to cast a ballot if they signed an affidavit explaining why they could not obtain a form of photo ID and showed an alternate form of ID, such as a utility bill. According to a 2018 Brennan Center report, states that previously needed preclearance have purged voters off their rolls at a much higher rate than other states. Additionally, according to another Brennan Center 2018 Poll on the State of Voting, most of the states that were previously covered by Section 5, have recently enacted laws or other measures that restricted voting rights.
Edward K. Olds argues in his December 2017 Columbia Law Review Article "More than "Rarely Used": A Post-"Shelby" Judicial Standard For Section 3 Preclearance" that in the wake of the defeat of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which was struck down by Shelby v. Holder, Section 3 could take on a very similar role. Section 3 states that a federal judge can require a jurisdiction to seek pre approval for future policies if it found to be in violation of the Fourteenth or Fifteenth Amendments, however, states that this is unlikely in the current political climate.
In the 2015 Phylon Article "A Response to Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder: Energizing, Educating and Empowering Voters," June Gary Hopps and Dorcas Davis Bowles argue that by eliminating section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Shelby v. Holder decreased the participation of minorities and that "The participation of these groups is not only important because of the implications for ensuring civil rights, but also for developing social capital within neighborhoods, and increasing positive inter-group relations." This article also states that combined with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, there is an extreme potential for erosion to civil rights gains, that could "further alienate disenfranchised people."
In the Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy article "The Blinding Color of Race: Elections and Democracy in the Post-Shelby County Era" Sahar Aziz that "the majority in Shelby County lost sight of the objective of the VRA. This historic law was not merely about preventing the most extreme levels or forms of discrimination, but rather having in place a regime that is preventative in nature so as to ensure discrimination continues to decreased eliminate the possibility of returning to a period of systemic disenfranchisement."
Desmond S. King and Rogers M. Smith argue in their Du Bois Review article "The Last Stand?" that although Shelby v. Holder represents a barrier to African-American political participation, efforts to disproportionately decrease the political power of minorities will long-term, fail to prevent increases in political gains for minorities. However, "they threaten to foster severe conflicts in American politics for years to come."
Studies and analysis
A 2005 report by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State 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. In 2007, a report prepared by the staff of the federal Election Assistance Commission concluded "there is a great deal of debate on the pervasiveness of fraud."
Cost of voter identification cards
According to a Harvard study, "the expenses for documentation, travel, and waiting time [for obtaining voter identification cards] are significant—especially for minority group and low-income voters—typically ranging from about $75 to $175. When legal fees are added to these numbers, the costs range as high as $1,500." So even if the cards themselves may be free, the costs associated with obtaining the card can be expensive. The author of the study notes that the costs associated with obtaining the card far exceeds the $1.50 poll tax outlawed by the 24th amendment in 1964.
The vast majority of voter ID laws in the United States target only voter impersonation, of which there are only 31 documented cases in the United States from the 2000–2014 period. According to PolitiFact, "in-person voter fraud—the kind targeted by the ID law—remains extremely rare". According to the Associated Press, the New York Times, NPR, CNBC, the Guardian and FactCheck.Org the available research and evidence point to the type of fraud that would be prevented by voter ID laws as "very rare" or "extremely rare". PolitiFact finds the suggestion that "voter fraud is rampant" false, giving it its "Pants on Fire" rating. Most cases of alleged voter fraud involving dead voters have been shown to be a result of incorrect matching of voter rolls and death records, such as when someone died after they voted rather than before. Writing in 2009, Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere noted that despite the common belief "that fraud occurs at least somewhat often in elections … social scientists have been unable to develop unambiguous measures of the incidence of fraud, and legal cases find very little hard evidence on the matter." In a 2012 analysis, News21 of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism surveyed thousands of election officials in 50 states regarding all instances of fraud relating to elections since 2000, and concluded that in-person voter impersonation is virtually non-existent, amounting to one out of about every 15 million prospective voters.
Proponents of voter ID laws cite the registration of dead and out-of-state voters as a vulnerability in the electoral system. A 2012 report by the Pew Center showed that more than 1.8 million deceased people remain registered to vote nationwide. The same report found 3 million voters registered in multiple states, presumably due to changes of residency. David Becker, the director of Election Initiatives for Pew, said this study's results pointed to the need to improve voter registration, rather than to evidence of voter fraud or suppression.
Proponents of voter ID laws fear that motivated individuals could exploit registration irregularities to impersonate dead voters or impersonate former state residents, casting multiple fraudulent ballots. Critics of such laws note that they only prevent one kind of fraud, namely voter impersonation. They say that this form of fraud is illogical, as the risks (a fine of up to $10,000 and/or 5 years in prison) far outweigh the benefits (casting one extra vote for the voter's desired candidate). Democrats have alleged that the scale of impersonation fraud has been greatly exaggerated by Republicans for political reasons.
A 2012 investigation of 207 alleged dead voters in South Carolina found only five instances unexplained by clerical errors. For instance, sometimes a son with the same name as his dead father was accidentally recorded as voting under the father's name. A study of dead voters in the 2006 Georgia midterm election concluded that only fifteen of the 66 alleged instances of dead voting were potentially fraudulent. All but four of the dead votes were cast absentee, and most of the absentee voters in question cast early ballots but died before the election, giving the impression of voter fraud. A 2013 study testing for additional cases of electoral fraud in addition to two cases that had already been documented found no additional cases of such fraud.
A 2007 report by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that voter impersonation was rarer than being struck by lightning. The author of this report, Justin Levitt, later reported in 2014 that he had identified only thirty-one credible instances of voter impersonation since 2000, involving a total of 241 ballots, out of a billion ballots cast. Also, in 2007, Lorraine Minnite released a report for Project Vote concluding that voter fraud was "extremely rare" in the United States. In 2014, a survey was published concluding that there was no evidence of widespread voter impersonation in the 2012 U.S. general election.
Proponents of voter ID laws have pointed to a 2014 study by Old Dominion University professors Jesse Richman and David Earnest as justification. The study, which used data developed by the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, concluded that more than 14 percent of self-identified non-citizens in 2008 and 2010 indicated that they were registered to vote, approximately 6.4% of surveyed non-citizens voted in 2008, and 2.2% of surveyed non-citizens voted in 2010. However, the study also concluded that voter ID requirements would be ineffective at reducing non-citizen voting. This study has been criticized by numerous academics. A 2015 study by the managers of the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that Richman and Earnest's study was "almost certainly flawed" and that, in fact, it was most likely that 0% of non-citizens had voted in recent American elections. Richman and Earnest's findings were the result of measurement error; some individuals who answered the survey checked the wrong boxes in surveys. Richman and Earnest therefore extrapolated from a handful of wrongfully classified cases to achieve an exaggerated number of individuals who appeared to be non-citizen voters. Richman later conceded that "the response error issues … may have biased our numbers". Richman has also rebuked President Trump for claiming that millions voted illegally in 2016. Brian Schaffner, Professor of Political Science at University of Massachesetts, Amherst, who was part of the team that debunked Richman and Earnest's study said that the study
… is not only wrong, it is irresponsible social science and should never have been published in the first place. There is no evidence that non-citizens have voted in recent U.S. elections... It is bad research, because it fails to understand basic facts about the data it uses. Indeed, it took me and my colleagues only a few hours to figure out why the authors' findings were wrong and to produce the evidence needed to prove as much. The authors were essentially basing their claims on two pieces of data associated with the large survey—a question that asks people whether they are citizens and official vote records to which each respondent has been matched to determine whether he or she had voted. Both these pieces of information include some small amounts of measurement error, as is true of all survey questions. What the authors failed to consider is that measurement error was entirely responsible for their results. In fact, once my colleagues and I accounted for that error, we found that there were essentially zero non-citizens who voted in recent elections.— Brian Schaffner, 
Support for voter ID laws correlates with perceived prevalence of voter fraud. Although absentee ballot fraud is more common than voter impersonation, only six of the 31 states with voter ID laws also impose similar requirements on people who mail in absentee ballots.
Perception of electoral systems
Lorraine Minnite of Demos has criticized proponents of voter ID laws for shifting their arguments in favor of such laws from voter fraud to electoral integrity. In an expert report prepared for the ACLU, she argued that "Calling the problem "electoral integrity" does not change the fact that the only threat to electoral integrity addressed by photo ID laws is in-person voter fraud," and that because such fraud is extremely rare, voter ID laws are not justified to prevent this problem. But in 2005, American University's Commission on Federal Election Reform, co-chaired by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, wrote:
The electoral system cannot inspire public confidence if no safeguards exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of voters. Photo IDs currently are needed to board a plane, enter federal buildings, and cash a check. Voting is equally important.— The Commission on Federal Election Reform
The Commission concluded that, although proven voter impersonation is minimal, a photo ID requirement will ensure election integrity and safeguard public perception of the nation's voting system at little cost to anyone.
However, among certain demographics, voter ID laws lower electoral confidence. A 2016 study concluded that Democrats in states with strict ID laws have reduced faith in the electoral system. It said that negative politicization by the Democratic Party may be to blame. On the other hand, Republicans living in strict photo identification states were more confident in their elections, though possibly due to similar politicization by Republican elites. Another 2015 study found that voters living in states with voter ID laws were not more confident in elections than voters who lived in states without such laws. A 2016 study found that people living in states with voter ID laws were no more confident in their elections than people in states without such laws, nor did they perceive lower rates of voter impersonation fraud. A 2017 study found similar results for both national and local election outcomes.
Studies of the effects of voter ID laws on turnout in the United States have generally found that such laws have little, if any, effect on turnout. This may be because these laws do not reduce turnout very much; it may also be because the strictest voter ID laws have the largest effect on turnout, and they have only been enacted relatively recently. Although most Americans possess a government-issued photo ID, those without ID may have trouble acquiring the proper credentials, lowering their turnout. The most comprehensive study of voter IDs, a 2017 study by Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere and Tufts political scientist Eitan Hersh, found that in Texas, 1.5% of those who showed up to vote in the 2012 election lacked the kinds of IDs that are targeted by voter ID laws, 4.5% of the total eligible population lacked them, 7.5% of black registered voters lack them. The numbers are likely higher in states with more urban areas, as fewer voters have driving licenses. A 2011 study by New York University's Brennan Center estimated that of the US population that is of voting age, 6–11% lack government-issued photo ID. 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.
Since some legitimate voters lack the kind of IDs demanded by voter ID laws, some commentators have argued that strict voter ID laws reduce voter turnout, especially among poor, black, elderly, disabled, and minority-language voters, and voters who have changed their names. However, the results of studies assessing the effect (or lack thereof) of these laws on turnout have been inconclusive.:945 For example, a 2012 study found that a stricter voter ID law in Georgia lowered turnout by about 0.4% in 2008 compared to 2004. A 2006 study also found that voter ID laws decreased aggregate turnout by between 3 and 4 percent. In contrast, several other studies have failed to demonstrate significant turnout reductions. A 2010 study found that 1.2% of registered voters in three states with voter ID laws (Indiana, Maryland, and Mississippi) lacked an ID that complied with the law. A 2011 study found that photo ID laws were correlated with a 1.6% decline in turnout, and non-photo ID laws were correlated with a 2.2% decline. In a 2014 review by the Government Accountability Office of the academic literature, five studies out of ten found that voter ID laws had no significant effect on overall turnout, four studies found that voter ID laws decreased overall turnout, and one study found that the laws increased overall turnout.
A 2014 Rice University study reported that Texas's voter ID law decreased turnout mainly among people who incorrectly thought they did not have the type of ID needed to comply with the law. The authors of this study also suggested that an education campaign aimed at clearly communicating what types of ID are acceptable in Texas would be beneficial.
A 2016 study argued that, although no clear-cut relationship exists between strict voter ID laws and voter turnout, the disenfranchising impact of voter ID laws may be hidden by Democratic voter mobilization. Strong negative reactions to voter ID laws among Democratic constituencies could, in theory, boost Democratic turnout enough to compensate for effects of the laws themselves. A 2007 report found a small increase in Democratic turnout in places with new voter ID laws.
A 2017 study found that 474 people tried to vote in Virginia's 2014 Senate election, but could not do so because they lacked the proper ID to comply with the state's voter ID law. The same study found that turnout was higher in parts of the state where registered voters were less likely to have a driver's license. The authors suggested that "This unexpected relationship might be explained by a targeted Department of Elections mailing, suggesting that the initial impact of voter ID laws may hinge on efforts to notify voters likely to be affected."
Charges of racial discrimination in voter ID laws are founded in the disparate impact doctrine of constitutional law, which claims that any action—intentional or unintentional—that statistically disadvantages a protected class constitutes discrimination. Disparate impact is most often discussed in the context of African Americans. The moral validity and constitutionality of this doctrine is hotly debated. This is relevant to voter ID laws because of accusations that these laws disproportionately reduce turnout among minority voters. According to an assessment of the existing research on voter ID laws by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Dan Hopkins, the research indicates that voter ID laws do disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. Research also shows that racial minorities are less likely to possess IDs.
Federal appeals courts have struck down strict voter-ID laws in Texas and North Carolina, citing intent by the legislatures to discriminate against minority voters. The appeals court noted that the North Carolina Legislature "requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices"—then, data in hand, "enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans." The changes to the voting process "target African Americans with almost surgical precision," and "impose cures for problems that did not exist."
A 2008 study found that the strictest voter ID laws reduced voter turnout relative to the most lax form of such laws (stating one's name). The same study reported that "the stricter voter identification requirements depress turnout to a greater extent for less educated and lower income populations, for both minorities and non-minorities." A 2009 study found that 84% of white registered voters in Indiana had access to photo ID to comply with that state's ID law, as compared to 78% of black voters on the rolls there. A 2008 study found that African Americans, Hispanics, and the elderly were less likely to have a voter ID that complied with Georgia's voter ID law.
A 2012 analysis by Nate Silver found that voter ID laws seem to decrease turnout by between 0.8% and 2.4%, depending on how strict they are, and tend to cause a shift towards the Republican candidate of between 0.4% and 1.2%. Silver found that the statistical reasoning was flawed in a number of studies which had found small effects but had described them as not statistically significant.
In 2012, an investigation by Reuters found that voter ID laws in Georgia and Indiana had not led to lower turnout of minorities and concluded that concerns about this "are probably overstated". In a 2014 review by the Government Accountability Office of the academic literature, three studies out of five found that voter ID laws reduced minority turnout whereas two studies found no significant impact.
A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office reported that voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout in these states by 1.9 and 2.2 percent, respectively, compared to four states that did not pass voter ID laws—Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, and Maine. The study indicates that young people, black people, and newly registered voters were most likely to have their turnout reduced. But Tennessee officials suggested that the reduced turnout may have been due to a lack of compelling ballot measures in 2012, and Kansas officials dismissed the drop in black voters as a product of high random variance in a small population. Tennessee officials questioned the reproducibility of this report, given its reliance on data from Catalist, which they claimed was a progressive political group.
A 2014 study from the University of Iowa found no evidence that strict voter ID laws reduce minority turnout. A 2012 study found that, although the Georgia voter ID laws lowered overall turnout by 0.4%, there was no racial or ethnic component to the suppression effect.
Disparate impact may also be reflected in access to information about voter ID laws. A 2015 experimental study found that election officials queried about voter ID laws were more likely to respond to emails from a non-Latino Anglo or European name (70.5% response rate) than a Latino name (64.8% response rate), though response accuracy was similar across those groups.
Studies have also analyzed racial differences in ID requests rates. A 2012 study in the city of Boston found strong evidence that non-white voters were more likely to be asked for ID during the 2008 election. According to exit polls, 23% of whites, 33% of Asians, 33% of blacks, and 38% of Hispanics were asked for ID, though this effect is partially attributed to black and Hispanics preferring non-peak voting hours when election officials inspected a greater portion of IDs. Precinct differences confound the data, as black and Hispanic voters tended to vote at black and Hispanic-majority precincts.
A 2010 study of the 2006 midterm election in New Mexico found that election officials asked Hispanics for ID more often than they did early voters, women, and non-Hispanics. A 2009 study of the 2006 midterm elections nationwide found that 47% of white voters reported being asked to show photo identification at the polls, compared with 54% of Hispanics and 55% of African Americans." Very few people were denied the chance to vote as a result of voter identification requests. A 2015 study found that turnout among blacks in Georgia was generally higher since the state began enforcing its strict voter ID law.
A 2017 study in the Journal of Politics "shows that strict identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections. We also find that voter ID laws skew democracy toward those on the political right." The results of this study were challenged in a paper by Stanford political scientist Justin Grimmer and four other political scientists. The paper says that the findings in the aforementioned study "a product of data inaccuracies, the presented evidence does not support the stated conclusion, and alternative model specifications produce highly variable results. When errors are corrected, one can recover positive, negative, or null estimates of the effect of voter ID laws on turnout, precluding firm conclusions." In a response, the authors of the original study dismissed the aforementioned criticisms, and stood by the findings of the original article. Columbia University statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman said that the response by the authors of the original study "did not seem convincing" and that the finding of racial discrepancies in the original study does not stand.
A 2017 report by Civis Analytics for the liberal super PAC Priorities USA purported to show that Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin the 2016 presidential election due to voter suppression brought on by Wisconsin's strict voter ID laws. Political scientists expressed serious skepticism of the report's methodology; Yale University political scientist Eitan Hersh said the report "does not meet acceptable evidence standards." A 2017 paper by University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientists Kenneth Mayer and Michael DeCrescenzo also purported to show that voter suppression swayed Wisconsin from Clinton; this paper was also rebutted by other political scientists on the basis of poor methodology.
Many nations require some form of voter identification at the polling place, but specific details of the requirement vary widely. In Spain, Greece, France, Belgium, and Italy, a government-issued photo ID is required to cast a ballot. However, all citizens in these nations are automatically provided with a photo ID upon reaching adulthood. Mexico has a similar system, with all registered voters receiving a photo ID upon completing the registration process. Several Western democracies do not require identification for voting, such as Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom. In Ireland, Sweden, and Switzerland, poll workers reserve the right to request identification but are not required to do so. In Canada, identification is required, but voters can provide any two forms of ID from a list of 45 possibilities. Canada's system is more stringent than the 17 U.S. states that do not require ID but less stringent than the 22 U.S. states with strict requirements. The strict Indiana ID system, for instance, accepts only five forms of ID: an Indiana driver's license, an Indiana ID card, a military ID, a US passport, or a student ID card from an in-state college or university. Conversely, some countries, like Australia, require no form of identification at any election. This position is similar to the situation in New York and California.
Several developing nations have instituted voter ID laws. Many Arab nations require voters to leave a fingerprint upon casting a ballot, allowing quick detection of fraud. In 2012, the head of Libya's national election commission expressed surprise that the American system "depends so much on trust and the good faith of election officials and voters alike". Likewise, India requires one of fifteen forms of identification to vote. The Gambia gives each voter a single marble to cast, ensuring that no one can vote multiple times.
Public opinion polls have shown support for voter ID laws among 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." A Pew poll showed that 95% of Republicans, 83% of independent voters, and 61% of Democrats favor requirements that voters should show photo IDs to vote. A 2012 Fox News poll produced similar results, revealing that 87% of Republicans, 74% of independent voters, and 52% of Democrats supported new voter ID laws.
Although all major political demographics support voter ID laws, a 2013 study showed significant divergence in opinion between conservative-affiliated demographics, which are staunch supporters, and liberal-affiliated demographics, which are less supportive. The study also showed that support depends on survey framing: when questions biased against voter ID laws are asked, support drops 15% compared to when questions favorable to voter ID laws are asked. A 2016 study showed that emphasizing the adverse effects of voter ID laws on eligible voters decreased popular support for such laws. Another 2016 study found that white people with high levels of implicit racism, but not explicit racism, were more supportive of voter ID laws when they were exposed to a fear-eliciting condition. A 2016 study found that partisan affiliation is a major determinant of support for voter ID laws and that Republicans are especially likely to be concerned about voter fraud. Research shows that Individuals who hold anti-immigrant views are most likely to believe that voter fraud is rampant.
Politicization of voter ID issues
In 2014, a study released 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—involve the greatest potential risks to election integrity and therefore warrant the greatest attention. Another 2014 study argued that careful voter roll maintenance is probably a more effective method for preventing voter fraud than voter ID laws.
A 2015 study found that local coverage of voter fraud during the 2012 elections was greatest in presidential swing states and states that passed strict vote ID laws prior to the 2012 election. There was no evidence that the reporting was related to the actual rate of voter fraud in each state. Based on this data, the authors concluded that "parties and campaigns sought to place voter fraud on the political agenda in strategically important states to motivate their voting base ahead of the election". Another 2015 study found a similar correlation between the enactment of voter ID laws and a state's electoral competitiveness, suggesting electioneering motives.
A 2016 study found polarization over voter ID laws was less stark in state legislatures where electoral competition was not intense. The same 2016 study found a notable relationship between the racial composition of a member's district, region, and electoral competition, and the likelihood that a state lawmaker supported a voter ID bill. The study found that "Democratic lawmakers representing substantial black district populations are more opposed to restrictive voter ID laws, whereas Republican legislators with substantial black district populations are more supportive." Southern lawmakers (particularly Democrats) were more opposed to restrictive voter ID legislation. Black legislators in the South were the least supportive of restrictive voter ID bills. A 2018 experimental study in Legislative Studies Quarterly, which sent messages from Latino and white constituents to lawmakers, found that lawmakers who supported voter ID laws were less likely to respond to messages sent by Latino constituents.
A 2017 study in American Politics Research found that the adoption of voter ID laws is most likely when control of the governor's office and state legislature switches to Republicans, and when the size of black and Latino populations in the state increases. Another 2017 study found that the different advertising strategies used to advertise Kansas' voter ID laws by different county clerks influenced the effect of these laws on turnout.
Several states controlled by Democrats maintain voter ID laws. For instance, Hawaii has required a state-issued photo ID for decades. In 2011, the Rhode Island legislature enacted a photo ID requirement, which was signed by governor Lincoln Chafee, making Rhode Island the most recent state controlled by Democrats to pass such legislation. However, both Hawaii and Rhode Island are "non-strict photo ID states", meaning that, in some circumstances, an affidavit or other legal measure can satisfy the ID requirement.
A 2018 study by the Williams Institute found that 137,000 transgender people who have transitioned will be eligible to vote in the 2018 US election in states with strict voter ID laws. An estimated 57% of them may not have identification or documentation that accurately reflects their gender. Eight states currently have strict voter ID laws that require voters to provide a government-issued photo ID in order to vote at the polls. In these states, election officials and poll workers decide whether a voter's identification accurately identifies the voter and matches the information listed in the voter registration rolls.
Laws by state
|State||Original Date Enacted||Type of Law||Key Dates and Notes|
|Alabama||2014||Photo ID (non-strict)||Law tightened in 2011 to require photo ID as of 2014, but it had not obtained federal preclearance. Following the US Supreme Court ruling in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, (2013), suspending the provision for pre-clearance, the state attorney general believed the voter ID law could be implemented in 2014. The state of Alabama issues free voter ID cards to voters who need them. These photo IDs are issued by driver license bureaus. The state closed driver license bureaus in eight of the ten counties with the highest percentages of nonwhite voters, and in every county in which blacks made up more than 75 percent of registered voters. However, the Board of Registrars' offices were kept open in all counties, and mobile ID locations remain active. Two election officials can sign sworn statements saying they know the voter as an alternative to showing a photo ID.|
|Alaska||Non Photo ID required (non-strict)||A Photo ID law was drafted by Rep. Bob Lynn; it was referred to the State Affairs and Judiciary Committees on January 7, 2013.|
|Arizona||2004||Strict Non Photo ID||Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling places as of 2013|
|Arkansas||2013||Non Photo ID required (non-strict)||Photo ID bill passed by lawmakers in 2013, and survived a veto by the Governor to become Act 595 of 2013. On May 2, 2014, Pulaski County Circuit Judge Tim Fox ruled Act 595 unconstitutional, but stayed his ruling pending an appeal. The week before early voting began for the 2014 midterm elections, the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed Judge Fox's decision declaring Arkansas Act 595 of 2013 to be unconstitutional on its face.|
|California||No ID required||In most cases, California voters are not required to show identification before they cast ballots.|
|Colorado||2003||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places as of 2013.|
|Connecticut||Non Photo ID required (non-strict)||Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places.|
|Delaware||Non Photo ID required (non-strict)||Non-photographic forms of ID allowed at polling places as of 2013.|
|Florida||1977||Photo ID (non-strict)||Photo ID required when voting in person.|
|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 on request 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.|
|Hawaii||1978||Photo ID (non-strict)||Photo ID required when voting in person.|
|Idaho||2010||Photo ID (non-strict)||Voters may sign a Personal Identification Affidavit if they do not possess a Photo ID at the polls.|
|Illinois||No ID required||Republican Senators authoring a bill for Photo ID.|
|Indiana||2005||Strict Photo ID||Photo ID required when voting in person, enacted in 2008 after Supreme Court clearance. The Indiana law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.|
|Iowa||2017||ID required||(During calendar year 2018 voters will be asked to show their ID before voting at the polls. Anyone who does not have the necessary ID will be asked to sign an oath verifying their identity, and will be allowed to cast a regular ballot.)(Beginning January 1, 2019, Iowa voters will be required to show a driver's license, non-driver's ID, passport, military ID, veterans ID, or Voter ID Card at the polls before they vote.)</https://sos.iowa.gov/elections/voterinformation/voterIDfaq.html>|
|Kansas||2011||Strict Photo ID||Photo ID required for in person voting; registration requires proof of citizenship, i.e., passport, birth certificate. The state suggested that federal registration ID could be used only for federal elections, and voters would need proof of citizenship for local and state elections. In July 2016 a federal court struck this down, and said the state had to allow more forms of ID for voting in November 2016.|
|Kentucky||Non Photo ID required (non-strict)||A citizen may vote if they have Photo ID, or if a precinct officer can vouch for the voter.|
|Louisiana||Photo ID (non-strict)||Voters may also use non-photographic identification at the polling place.|
|Maine||No ID required||No ID needed at polling place if registered to vote at least one day prior to election. However an ID is required to vote if person was registered to vote on the day of the election |
|Maryland||2013||No ID required||Republicans sponsored a House Bill requiring Photo ID in 2013.|
|Massachusetts||No ID required||Non-photographic ID is accepted at polling stations.|
|Michigan||Photo ID (non-strict)||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.|
|Minnesota||No ID required||Non-photographic ID is accepted at polling stations.|
|Mississippi||2011||Strict Photo ID||Governor signed Photo ID bill into law in 2012. The bill was required to go through Pre-Clearance check from the federal government. The US Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder (2013) suspended this provision. Mississippi was expected to enact its new Photo ID requirement in 2014.
Photo ID is now required to vote in 2018.
|Missouri||2002||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||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, needing approval by both State Senate and voters in November 2014 elections. State House passes an additional version of Photo ID law in 2016. State Senate passes Photo ID law in 2016. Vote held to amend the state constitution in regards to Photo ID requirement in summer of 2016, resulting in Photo ID law being enacted.|
|Montana||2003||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||Montana Voter ID Bill tabled in committee in 2013 by both Republicans and Democrats. Voter impersonation fraud was not substantiated as a problem in the state.|
|Nebraska||No ID required||Following Shelby v. Holder, lawmakers were revisiting a Photo ID bill in 2013.|
|Nevada||No ID required||Secretary of State sponsors a bill for Photo ID in 2012.|
|New Hampshire||2015||Photo ID (non-strict)||Voters may sign an affidavit and have their photograph taken in lieu of showing a photo ID. (Voters who object to having their photo taken for religious reasons may sign an additional religious affidavit in lieu of the photograph.)|
|New Jersey||No ID required||Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at the polls.|
|New Mexico||2008||No ID required||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||No ID required||Non-photographic ID accepted at polling stations|
|North Carolina||2013||No ID required||In 2013, the state House passed a bill that requires voters to show a photo ID issued by North Carolina, a passport, or a military identification card when they go to the polls by 2016. Out-of-state drivers licenses are accepted only if the voter registered within 90 days of the election, and university photo identification is never acceptable. In July 2016, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed a trial court decision in a number of consolidated actions and struck down the law's photo ID requirement, finding that the new voting provisions targeted African Americans "with almost surgical precision," and that the legislators had acted with clear "discriminatory intent" in enacting strict election rules, shaping the rules based on data they received about African-American registration and voting patterns. The U.S. Supreme Court let this decision stand without review in May 2017.|
|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. On August 1, 2016, a federal judge blocked the law, citing "undisputed evidence … that Native Americans face substantial and disproportionate burdens in obtaining each form of ID deemed acceptable". Specifically, the state had said that tribal cards without street addresses of the resident were unacceptable, but many Native Americans use post office boxes and do not have street addresses on reservations.|
|Oklahoma||2009||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||Oklahoma voters approved a voter Photo ID proposal proposed by the Legislature in 2010. The only non-photo form of ID accepted at the polls is the voter's registration card.|
|Ohio||2006||Strict Non-Photo ID||Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling stations. With strong Republican majorities in Ohio House and Senate, the Photo ID bill was expected to be revisited following the ruling in Shelby v. Holder (2013). The legislature rescinded the practice of a "Golden Week," during which voters could both register and vote early. In July 2016 the court ruled that this change put an undue burden on African-American voters, as the state had not proved justification through documented instances of fraud.|
|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 one's Social Security Number or Drivers License Number, could not be referenced.|
|Pennsylvania||No ID required||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 (2013). 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.|
|Rhode Island||2014||Photo ID (non-strict)||RI requires Photo ID at the polls in 2014.|
|South Carolina||1988||Photo ID (non-strict)||Law tightened in 2011. U.S. Justice Department rejected South Carolina's law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters. On October 10, 2012, the U.S. District Court upheld South Carolina's Voter ID law, though the law did not take effect until 2013. As of January 2016, a photo ID is requested, but a voter registration card will be accepted if there is a "reasonable impediment" in possessing a photo ID.|
|South Dakota||2003||Photo ID (non-strict)||If a voter does not possess a photo ID at the polling place, then the voter may complete an affidavit of personal identification.|
|Tennessee||2011||Strict Photo ID||Law tightened in 2011. Tennessee voters were required to show Photo ID during the 2012 elections.|
|Texas||1990||Strict Photo ID||Law tightened in 2011. U.S. Justice Department rejected the Texas law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters. The 2013 US Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder (2013) suspended the provision for pre-clearance absent an updated model. On October 9, 2014, a U.S. District Judge struck down the law. 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; it sent the law back to the lower courts. Therefore, the state will implement this law for the 2014 elections. On August 5, 2015, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found the law to violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and sent it back to the U.S. District Court. In July 2016, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found the law discriminatory against minorities and ordered the lower court to come up with a fix before the November 2016 elections. In February 2017, the Department of Justice's Jeff Sessions dropped the lawsuit against the 2011 voter ID legislation.|
|Utah||2009||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||Non-photographic forms of ID are accepted at polling stations.|
|Vermont||No ID required||No ID required to vote at polling stations.|
|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 IDs cannot be used. The governor signed a law to require photo IDs 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). 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.|
|Washington||2005||Non-Photo ID required (non-strict)||Washington has no polling stations. Ballots are mailed in.|
|West Virginia||Non-Photo ID requested (non-strict)||Republicans were preparing a Photo ID bill in 2013. West Virginia now requests a non-photo ID to vote in 2017.|
|Wisconsin||2011||Strict 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. On September 12, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the law to be put into effect 54 days before the 2014 elections, overturning a previous ruling in federal court. On October 9, 2014, the state was barred from implementing the Voter ID law for 2014 by the U.S. Supreme Court. On March 23, 2015, the United States Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the ACLU against Wisconsin's voter ID law, effectively upholding the 7th Circuit's ruling that it is constitutional. The law went into effect with the local/state primary vote on February 16, 2016. The 7th District remanded the case back to Judge Adelman of the federal Eastern District of Wisconsin for further proceedings. He gathered evidence as to the burden of the law. In July 2016 he issued an injunction against the voter ID law, "ruling citizens without an official ID may still cast ballots after signing an affidavit affirming their identity." This ruling will prevail in the November 2016 election.
Wisconsin now requires photo ID to vote.
|Wyoming||No ID required||No ID needed at polling stations.|
|Washington, D.C.||No ID required||No ID needed at polling stations.|
- Jim Crow laws
- Transgender disenfranchisement in the United States#Voter ID history
- Voter suppression in the United States
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