Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

What Should I Bring to the Ballot Box? An Update on State Voter ID Laws

The upcoming presidential election is shaping up as one of the most bitter and contentious in recent history. And behind all of the debates, scandals, and attack ads, another battle has been playing out, one focusing on who will get to cast ballots come November.

We all need to be registered in order to vote, but some states also require some form of official identification in order to receive a ballot or vote at the polls. While supporters of voter ID laws claim this helps reduce voter fraud, opponents contend the laws are used to place an extra burden on minority voters. The conflict has been playing out in the court system recently, leaving many to wonder where their state voter ID laws stand. Here's an update:

Voter ID Background

Before we get to specific state statutes, it may help to define what voter ID laws are all about, and whether they're even legal in the first place. Not all voter ID laws are the same, and some have been stricken down by the courts. And there are questions about whether voter ID laws actually accomplish what they claim to. So here's a quick primer.

Types of Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws can be broken down into three categories:

  1. Strict ID: Voters are required to present ID before casting a ballot. If the voter is unable to present ID at the polls, he or she can cast a provision ballot, which will only be counted if the voter returns later with a valid ID;
  2. Non-Strict: Can vary by state, but voters may present alternative means of verification, like a signed affidavit, and generally aren't required to follow up to have provisional ballots counted; and
  3. No ID: Not all states require ID to vote at the polls.

Even in the strict and non-strict categories, some states require photo IDs only, while others allow you to present some verifying document like a bank statement or utility bill.

Effectiveness of Voter ID Laws

The idea behind ID laws is to prevent voter fraud, like a person voting twice, voting in place of someone else, or voting when they're not registered. But it's not clear that voter ID laws actually reduce voter fraud. First, it would be hard to curtail an activity that happens so rarely -- a recent Washington Post analysis of elections over the last 14 years found just 31 credible incidents of the kind of voter fraud that most voter ID laws are designed to prevent. But while this may make voter ID laws seem like much ado about nothing, that hasn't stopped some states from trying to pass stricter voter ID requirements.

Voter ID in the Courts

Federal courts have recently ruled on voter ID or registration cases regarding five state laws. While some of the states have promised to appeal the cases to the Supreme Court, it is unlikely the Court (which remains short one justice) will rule on any of them before the November elections.

Kansas

Kansas not only required ID, but proof of U.S. citizenship to vote. After complicated legal battles over the past three years, a judge finally declared that votes from people who didn't show proof-of-citizenship must be counted in federal, state, and local elections.

North Carolina

The Fourth Circuit found North Carolina's voter ID law, saying it was passed with discriminatory intent. "Before enacting that law," the ruling noted, "the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices," and then went on to restrict voting and registration in multiple ways, "all of which disproportionately affected African Americans." North Carolina appealed the decision but the Supreme Court declined to hear their appeal.

Ohio

Ohio has what is known as "Golden Week," that allowed voters to both register to vote and cast early ballots at the same location. After a recent Ohio law eliminated Golden Week, a federal court overturned the ban, finding it imposed a burden on African American voting rights and that the state's justifications for the law "fail to outweigh that burden."

Texas

While Texas's non-strict photo ID law remains in place, a recent ruling said the law had a discriminatory effect on minority voters and required the state to implement certain remedial measures. Under the new court order, if voters don't possess one of the seven forms of ID required by Texas law, and "cannot reasonably obtain it," they will be able to use several alternative forms of identification, and sign a declaration saying they could not obtain the required ID.

Wisconsin

In back-and-forth decisions, a federal district court ruled that Wisconsin needed to ease restrictions by allowing voters unable to get an ID to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity. But that ruling was blocked from going into effect by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. So, for now, Wisconsin's strict photo ID requirement will be in place for the November elections.

Voter ID Now

So after all of this, where do state voter ID laws fall right now? The National Conference of State Legislatures has an up-to-date and handy map illustrating the current state voter ID laws, which breaks down like this:

  • Strict photo ID: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin;
  • Strict non-photo ID: Arizona, North Dakota, Ohio;
  • Non-Strict photo ID: Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas;
  • Non-Strict non-photo ID: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, Washington; and
  • No ID required: California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Washington, D.C.

These classifications aren't always easy to distinguish and each state may have its own particular requirements. If you want more information on your state's voter ID laws, or if you feel like your voting rights have been violated, you can contact an experienced local civil rights attorney.

Related Resources: