What do I need to vote?
Voter ID rules and requirements can be confusing to navigate. VoteRiders is here to help! This post is part of our series addressing some of the most common questions and challenges related to voter ID laws.
Whether you’re a first-time voter or an experienced one, we’ll cover everything you need to know about voting in the next election, including:
➜ What do I need to vote?
➜ What are the different voting methods?
➜ What if I don’t have one of my state’s acceptable forms of identification to vote?
➜ Does my ID need to have my address on it?
➜ Can I use an expired ID to vote?
➜ What can I use as a photo ID?
➜ How can I get a free ID to vote?
How to register to vote
First, it’s essential to register to vote. To register to vote, visit Vote.gov. Depending on your state, you can choose to:
- Register to vote online
- Complete and mail in your voter registration form
- Register to vote in person
Voter registration laws vary from state to state — some states, like Minnesota, allow voters to register and then vote on the same day, while other states, like New York, require voters to be registered for a set period of time before an election.
First-time voters: What do I need to bring to vote at my polling place?
First-time voters, according to federal law, must provide an acceptable form of identification the first time they vote in a federal election if they did not provide their driver’s license or state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number when they registered. Some states also have additional requirements for first-time voters.
Specific requirements for acceptable forms of identification vary by state. However, there are some common items you may need to bring to the polls.
Common forms of identification include:
- Driver’s license
- State ID card/Non-driver’s license
- Voter identification card
- ID issued by the state or federal government
- Bank statement
- Property tax statement
- Birth certificate
- Residential lease
- Voter registration card
- Student ID
- Veteran card like Veteran Health Identification Cards
- Military Identification Card for the Armed Forces
- U.S. passport or passport card
- Debit or credit card
As a reminder, these common forms of identification are just examples before voting at your local polling place, check your state’s identification requirements.
What ID is required to vote?
Specific state voter ID requirements
Every state has different voter ID requirements, and some states do not have voter ID laws. To ensure you have the correct identification to vote, check out your state’s voter ID rules.
As you’ll see on the map, many states require or request the following:
➜ A form of photo identification: Some states require that your proof of identification includes a photo like a U.S. passport, driver’s license, or state ID.
➜ Non-photo identification: Some states allow the use of a non-photo ID like a utility bill or bank statement.
✱ Not sure what to use as a photo ID or non-photo ID? Check out your state’s list of all acceptable photo IDs and non-photo IDs for voting.
Can I use an expired ID to vote?
Voting with expired identification in the United States is dependent on your state’s specific rules and laws:
➜ States that accept expired IDs: In some states, like Virginia, you can use an ID that is expired within a certain time period.
➜ States that do not accept expired IDs: In other states like Arizona, your photo ID must be unexpired.
What if I don’t have one of my state’s acceptable forms of identification to vote?
If you don’t have one of your state’s acceptable forms of ID, many states offer alternative forms of voting:
➜ Provisional ballots: A provisional ballot is a temporary ballot that allows you to vote, but its validity is subject to verification. Election officials will often later review your eligibility and confirm your identity before counting your vote.
➜ Sworn statements: If you can’t provide ID some states will accept a sworn statement that affirm a voter’s identity and voting eligibility instead.
➜ Reasonable impediment: If you have a qualified excuse as to why you don’t have an accepted ID (e.g. religious exemption, inability to afford documentation, natural disaster etc.), some states will accept sworn statements that affirm your identity and voting eligibility.
➜ Free IDs: For states that require ID, many states (like Ohio) will issue a state ID for free to residents who request it to use for voting.
➜ Voter identification card:Some states (like Georgia) offer a free Voter ID card from the state for use as ID only for voting purposes.
✱ Please note: Some states, like California, don’t require ID to vote in person (except for some first-time voters). Be sure to check your state’s requirements before voting.
Does my ID need to have my address printed on it?
Each state has different requirements for whether or not a voter must show an ID with the same address as the address they registered at, or whether an ID with a different address (e.g. a former address) is allowed.
➜ States that accept outdated addresses: In some states (like Ohio), using an ID with a former address is acceptable.
➜ States that will not accept outdated or mismatched addresses: In other states (like Arizona, the address on your ID must reasonably match your voter registration address.
What are the different methods used to vote?
Some states offer alternative forms of voting — but not all. If you’re curious about early-in-person voting, voting by mail, or voting by email, check out your state’s rules and regulations.
However, alternate forms of voting typically include:
Early in-person voting
Early voting allows registered voters to cast their vote in an election before the designated election day. For greater convenience and flexibility, early voting allows voters to vote at a predetermined location (which might be different from their regular election day polling location) and time before the official election day.
The specific rules and availability of early voting can vary depending on the state, or local jurisdiction. In some places, like Arizona, early voting can start a few days or weeks before the scheduled election day, while in others, like Idaho, it may only be available for a limited period, such as a few days or weekends leading up to the election.
Voting by mail
Mail-in voting allows eligible voters in the United States to cast their ballots without physically visiting a polling place on election day. It provides an alternative for individuals who are unable or prefer not to vote in person due to various reasons, such as travel, illness, disability, or personal preference.
How to vote by mail
To vote by mail, eligible voters typically follow the same process:
➜ Request: Request an absentee ballot from their state or local election authority
➜ Receive:Receive a blank ballot in the mail at the voter’s registered address or another designated address, with instructions for how to complete and return the ballot
➜ Complete: Vote and fill out the ballot as instructed.
➜ Provide ID: Provide a copy of ID or ID number (e.g. Social Security number, driver’s license number) if required by the state.
➜ Return: Return the completed ballot to the designated election authority by a specified deadline
- Return options may include mailing the ballot back, dropping it off at a designated location, and/or using a secure ballot drop-off box .
Vote by mail eligibility
The process and requirements for requesting an absentee ballot can vary from state to state:
➜ Some states (like Alabama) may require a valid reason or excuse to vote by mail
Examples of excuses include:
- Out of state travel
- Religious objection
- A disability that prevents a person from voting in person
➜ Some states (like Georgia) have “no-excuse” absentee voting: this allows any eligible voter to request a mail-in ballot, without needing a specific reason to do so.
Voting by mail requirements
➜ Identification: Some states require mail-in voters to provide a photocopy of their ID or to provide ID information when requesting an absentee or mail-in ballot and/or when completing the ballot itself.
➜ Identification information: some states require identification information (e.g. driver’s license or state ID number, Social Security number).
➜ Signature: In some states, voting by mail requires a valid signature (sometimes with a witness). In some states the voter’s signature must match their signature on their registration or the ballot may not be counted.
Voting by Email
Most states do not allow email voting as a regular method for casting ballots in elections.
However, it’s important to note that states may have different provisions for specific categories of voters.
Voters who are eligible to vote by email
- Military personnel
- Overseas voters
Wrapping it Up: What Do I Need to Vote?
Voting eligibility and requirements for what you need to bring to vote vary from state to state and can change. Before every election, check your local election authority to ensure that you’re up to date on your state’s requirementsand have the ID you may need for the kind of voting you’d like to participate in.
If you need assistance obtaining a free ID, contact VoteRiders for help.