Voter ID Law
In recent years, a growing number of states have elected to pass what have become generally referred to as voter identification laws. These laws require voters to show some sort of personal identification at the polls in order to cast their vote in state, local, and national elections.
As of 2016, a voter ID law is in effect in 36 states; how strict these laws are depends entirely upon each state.
**NOTE: All first-time voters who registered by mail and did not provide proof of identity by Election Day must show ID at their polling place, regardless of their state's voter ID law, or lack thereof.
Why Have ID Laws Been Passed?
Voter ID laws have become controversial in recent history. For those states where voter identification laws have been passed, their legislatures claim that it is an effort to curb voter fraud. With an ID requirement, the state can assure that a single vote is being cast for a single voter, as well as ensure that the person casting their vote is who they say they are. This, according to those states, prevents voter impersonation.
Opponents of these laws point out that very little of this type of fraud occurs, and that these laws potentially target specific ethnicities, socio-economic groups, and citizens who may be homeless and without the means to an ID—causing people to be barred from exercising their constitutional right to vote. For some in rural areas, the burden of accessing an ID office is a further barrier to voting.
In some states, voter ID laws have been partially or completely turned over by the state's judiciary branch; therefore, it is important to note that this topic is a fluid one in today's political climate.
Requirements Categories of Voter ID Laws
Photo ID vs. Non-Photo ID Laws
As mentioned above, currently there are 36 states with voter ID laws in effect, though additional states have passed laws that have been subsequently struck down.
These states are separated into two categories: “ Photo ID" vs. “Non-Photo ID".
If your state is a “Photo ID" state, you MUST provide identification that includes your photo. Examples of acceptable photo ID documents include:
- Driver's license.
- U.S. passport.
- State ID card.
- Military identification card.
- Tribal ID card.
For “Non-Photo ID" states, a form of identification is required, but does not need your photo on it. Non-photo ID documents should include your name and address; examples are:
- Bank statement.
- Rent or mortgage agreement.
- Utility bill.
Strict vs. Non-Strict Laws
These states' laws are further broken down into “ Strict" and “Non-Strict" categories, based on what voters are required/allowed to do if they do NOT meet the ID requirements above:
- “Strict" voter ID laws: You will be required to vote on a provisional ballot that will be contingent upon you taking additional steps after voting to prove your identity (i.e. coming back with an ID card).
- If your identity cannot be verified, your provisional ballot will not count.
- “Non-Strict voter ID laws: You may have an option that allows you to vote—and have your vote counted—without the required ID.
- OPTION EXAMPLES: Signing an identity affidavit; having election officials vouch for your identity, voting on a provisional ballot, etc.
Details for each state's requirements and allowances can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures' (NCSL) Voter ID Laws page.
U.S. States with Voter ID Laws
Voters are required to show some type of identification at the polls in 36 states. As of 2016, part of Texas' voter ID law has also been struck down; however, it remains unclear whether or not the state continues to enact the entire law as passed.
The following states have passed and enacted voter identification laws; they are separated into their respective “ Strict" vs. “Non-Strict" categories. For details on the state-specific nuances to each law, visit the NCSL's Voter ID Laws page.
Strict ID Laws
Photo ID Required
- North Carolina
Non-Photo ID Accepted
- North Dakota
Non-Strict ID Laws
Photo ID Required
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Non-Photo ID Accepted
- New Hampshire
- West Virginia
Voter ID Law Exceptions
There are some exceptions to the stringent requirements that these voter identification laws put forth. Exceptions are state-specific—please visit the NCSL's Voter ID Laws page to see which states honor the below exceptions.
- Voting absentee or using a mail-in ballot.
- Having any of the following:
- Religious objections to photography.
- Monetary difficulties/poverty.
- Reasonable impediments to applying for an ID card.
- Been a victim of:
- Natural disaster.
- Domestic abuse, stalking, or sexual assault.
What If I Don't Have an ID?
If you do not have your state's required form of identification, and you do not meet any of the exceptions listed above, the procedure for voting will be based on whether your state is considered Strict or Non-Strict (see above for procedures). Often, this includes filling out a provisional ballot and returning with proof of ID within a specified time frame.
While many states offer a free ID card to its residents with financial hardship, copies of the identification documents required to obtain that free ID can be prohibitively costly to people in such situations. If this is the case for you, contact your local DMV to find out what your options may be.