What Is Voter ID?
Voter ID laws are requirements that registered voters show some form of identification when they vote in person. Some states also require identification for absentee ballots. The specific rules about which kinds of IDs are acceptable vary from state to state. Voter ID is IN ADDITION TO a state's requirements for proving your identity and residency when you register to vote.
Protecting the right to vote is not a partisan issue. It’s an American issue. No citizen should be prevented from exercising this basic right.
We have seen massive confusion in EVERY STATE about these complicated voter ID rules -- among voters and poll workers alike. The laws put state bureaucrats and ill-trained DMV employees between eligible voters and the ballot box.
Some people may think it’s easy to get a photo ID. Doesn’t everybody need one to drive a car, get on a plane, and buy cigarettes and alcohol? Well, not everyone drives - including people with disabilities, older adults, and low-income individuals. Not everybody smokes or drinks alcohol. And many citizens have their reasons why they do not travel on airplanes. Read law professor Justin Levitt's article about the truth behind needing an ID to board an airplane.
Ok, then … just get the ID that you need! Not so fast – obtaining a current, valid, government-issued photo ID in order to vote means at least one trip to the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles or wherever in each state you get a voter ID). Depending upon where you live, your local DMV can be up to 100 miles away; and the days and hours it’s open can be few.
The biggest difficulty can be trying to get the documents you need to prove who you are and where you live. To get a voter ID, a state may require a certified copy of your birth certificate with a raised seal (and, legal documentation of any change of name since then) – all of which costs money and can take a lot of time, plus a Social Security card plus two acceptable documents showing your name and address.
A report released by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School analyzed laws in 14 states as of October of 2011. The study found that these laws had the potential to disenfranchise more than five million eligible voters in 2012. There are currently 33 states whose voter ID laws are in effect or imminent.
Some laws specify strict current, government-issued photo ID requirements. Those who may not have a current, valid photo ID – primarily those without a driver’s license - include older Americans, veterans, people of color, young adults, people with disabilities and individuals with low incomes.
To further understand the issue, a Brennan Center survey conducted in 2006 regarding US citizens and proof of citizenship yielded the following findings:
- As many as 11 percent of voting-age United States citizens – more than 21 million individuals – do not have current (unexpired) government-issued photo identification.
- 18 percent of American citizens age 65 and above do not have a current government-issued photo ID. Using 2005 census estimates, this amounts to more than six million senior citizens.
- 25 percent of African-American voting-age citizens have no current government-issued photo ID, compared to eight percent of white voting-age citizens. Using 2000 census figures, there are more than 5.5 million adult African-American citizens without photo identification.
- As many as 18 percent of citizens aged 18-24 do not have photo ID with current address and name; using 2004 census tallies, almost 4.5 million young adult American citizens are in jeopardy.
Further, voter ID laws disproportionately impact women. Those who have assumed a married name may still have their single-status name on their driver’s license vs. their name on the voter roll. The above-mentioned Brennan Center survey found that only 48% of voting-age women have easy access to their U.S. birth certificates with their current legal name, “and only 66% of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with current legal name.” The study used census data from 2000 and concluded that the only available proof-of-citizenship documents possessed by as many as 32 million voting-age women do not reflect their current name.
We encourage those in voter ID states to double-check and renew their IDs now, before the next Election Day.
The following states request or require registered voters to show ID in order to cast a ballot. For details about whether YOUR ID is valid to vote in your state, see our state-by-state Voter ID Information page.
*The voter ID laws in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin are being appealed. West Virginia has enacted a voter ID law that is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2018.
States not listed above follow federal guidelines in only requiring ID be shown by first-time voters who did not provide ID when registering to vote.
VoteRiders is the only organization that focuses exclusively on voter ID. Our programs include:
- Individual Voter Assistance: We provide information about voter ID requirements, including via our nationwide toll-free Voter ID Hotline (844-338-8743) and online resources. We also help voters who need to obtain ID to vote in their state, such as covering the cost of required documents (birth certificates, Social Security cards, name-change court orders, etc.) for low-income voters, arranging transportation to their local DMV to secure their voter ID, and pro bono legal assistance with documentation.
- Voter ID Education: We inform people about voter ID requirements so that they have confidence their vote will count. We highlight developments in voter ID laws, their implementation, and their consequences. We bring clarity to the widespread confusion about voter ID and its relationship to voter registration and other voting rights issues.
- On-the-Ground Partnerships: We partner with local organizations to find, inform and help voters with voter ID, especially those most at risk of losing their right to vote. Our Partner Organizations are crucial to the work we do. Their community connections and volunteer programs multiply and sustain our impact across the country.