We're a long way from November 2020. But the Democratic debates and campaigning have already begun, so naturally people have one eye on the issues and another on the polls. And we mean actual voters voting, not just how candidates will fare at the polls.
Under the guise of cracking down on voter fraud, states have been making significant changes to voter registration requirements and identification needed to cast votes. Does that mean you have to make a trip to the DMV if you want to head to the polls on election day?
In order to vote in federal elections (like the one coming up) you must still be registered to vote in your state. And federal voting law mandates that you must either provide a driver's license or the last four digits of your social security number at the time of registration. Alternatively, you must provide some proof of your identity at your local polling booth when you go vote.
State requirements on acceptable forms of ID at the polls can vary, but you may be asked to present your driver's license or state ID card, passport, employee, student, or military ID, or utility bills, bank statements, or paychecks to confirm your identity. At least 34 states now require some form of ID at the polls, so check with your local election commission to confirm what you'll need to register beforehand and what you'll need to present at the polls to cast your vote. Having a driver's license may help with registration and voting, but it is not a prerequisite in many states.
Additionally -- and this is very important -- the federal Help America Vote Act allows voters who fail to provide proof of identity at the polling booth to cast provisional ballots. While provisional ballots will not be counted in the results unless you confirm your identity in a timely manner after you vote, you have the right to vote and the right to know if their vote was counted or not.
In some circumstances, you may be required to get a driver's license after you register to vote and cast your ballot. New Hampshire, for example, passed a new voter ID that eliminated four words from the definition of resident: "for the indefinite future." That means anyone who registers to vote in the state is not just saying they are domiciled in the state, but declaring their permanent residency. And that, in turn, could trigger motor vehicle registration laws that require any new residents to obtain a state-issued driver's license within 60 days or face fines or possible jail time.
As we noted, some college students and the American Civil Liberties Union are challenging the law, but their prospects don't look good. So those in New Hampshire, and other states with similar registration requirements, may be required to get a driver's license after registering to vote.
State voter registration and ID laws remain in flux, and these issues will only be more magnified the closer we get to Election Day. So, if you have questions about voter registration or are worried about being able to cast your ballot, contact a local attorney for help.