Three Lessons from the Midterms about Voter ID Laws

As we turn our attention to the runoff election in Georgia as well as the work ahead for the 2024 presidential elections, I thought I’d share with you three lessons from the midterms at this critical moment for both our voter ID work and its impact on our democracy.  

1. Voter ID laws are causing exactly the confusion and disenfranchisement we feared they would.

The dust is still settling on turnout figures from the midterms, but here’s what we already can say about the impact of voter ID laws on this election:

  • Georgia passed a new voter ID law last year, and it created new barriers to mail-in voting for more than 150,000 already-registered voters — an estimated 58% of whom are Black.
  • In Texas, the state’s new voter ID law added obstacles to mail-in voting and led to an unprecedented rate of absentee ballot rejections in the March 1 primary, with one study finding that minority voters were 50% more likely to have their ballots rejected.
  • VoteRiders’ Helpline traffic increased 545% this year from 2018 levels. Many of these calls came from states like Missouri, where new voter ID laws were being implemented for the first time, or from Texans who were confused about why their primary ballots were rejected. We also received calls from voters in states without voter ID laws, where voter ID laws were being wrongly applied by poll workers — showing how confusion around voter ID can lead to disenfranchisement even in states without voter ID laws. 

The 2022 midterms saw high turnout by historical standards, but we should be clear that at least 50% of eligible voters did not vote. We know that voter ID laws have a deeply disproportionate impact on voters of color, young voters, people with disabilities, and low-income voters, and when we look at turnout figures, we need to keep those barriers in mind.

2. There are no shortcuts. We need to do the work to meet voters where they are with the ID information and free help they might not otherwise have access to or seek out. 

Identifying the voters who need our services is one of the most challenging parts of our work. It requires deep knowledge of the electorate and the communities we serve, and trust-building over time within those same communities.  

That’s why we hired new organizers on the ground in Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas in 2022. We put up billboards at public transit hubs and bus stations, ran radio ads in strict voter ID states, and used new platforms like Snapchat to create in-app resources to reach young and student voters who have a particularly hard time with voter ID laws.

And we got creative! We partnered with hundreds of groups not known for voter engagement — like food banks, shelters, COVID-19 vaccination clinics, employment fairs, and individual employers. 

This approach of deep engagement over the long term worked — but we still have a lot of ground to cover and a lot to learn about reaching those who might be disenfranchised for lack of voter ID.

3. We can’t wait for election years to ramp up if we want to be as effective as we need to be. 

It can take weeks — sometimes months — to get an ID, especially when a voter needs to get underlying documents like a birth certificate or Social Security card. The voter ID assistance part of our work can be time intensive, difficult, and expensive. That’s why almost every other group — nonprofits, parties, and campaigns — doesn’t do it, and leaves the most marginalized potential voters out of their outreach plans. 

It also takes time for us to establish the trust and regular presence we need in communities to offer our ID assistance in the first place. This investment of time means our work never stops. We don’t have the luxury of showing up right before an election — we have to be on the ground year-in and year-out, earning trust and doing the often-challenging work of helping people locate documents, get to appointments, and navigate the paperwork and bureaucracy it takes to get a voter ID.

We are committed to doing this work because of who it reaches and its important impact not just on the electorate, but our society writ large. Our work changes lives: opening up pathways for stable housing, gainful employment, and critical medication, in addition to allowing people a meaningful say in the policies that impact them via the ballot box. 

I am deeply proud of our VoteRiders staff, volunteers, and partners who worked tirelessly throughout the year and in the lead up to — and through — Election Day to help millions of voters nationwide navigate the complex and confusing landscape of state-level voter ID laws. Even after polls had closed, for several days afterward, our team was busy helping voters cure their ballots to ensure that every voice was heard. For many voters, we know this effort made the difference between having their ballots counted and not.  

Right now, we are focused on the Senate runoff in Georgia, and then we’ll immediately begin our work for 2024, because no eligible voter should ever be turned away from the polls because they don’t have an ID.