Since 2006, more than 30 states have enacted voter ID laws requiring voters to present some form of identification at the polls in order to vote. These laws vary from state to state with regard to what kind of identification is acceptable and whether a provisional ballot may be cast if the voter does not have the proper ID with her. Voters in states that require specific kinds of photo ID, can obtain a government-issued voter ID card prior to voting.
Pros and Cons of Voter ID Laws
Advocates of voter ID laws contend that they protect against voter fraud. Since voters without proper ID can obtain a free voter ID card from the state, proponents say the laws present no significant obstacles to voting. Critics, however, maintain that minority, low-income and elderly voters are the most likely not to have the proper ID. These individuals would have to take unpaid time off from work to obtain the voter ID. Also, low-income or elderly voters may not have copies of the necessary proofs of identity, such as a birth certificate, which they would have to pay to obtain. This amounts to a poll tax, according to critics.
Acceptable Forms of Voter Identification
Acceptable forms of ID vary from state to state. States like Alabama and Rhode Island require a photo ID such as a driver's license, passport, military ID or current university student photo ID card, though some states won't accept student ID cards. States like Arizona and Montana accept identifying documents like recent utility bills or bank statements with the voter's name and address. Twenty states, including California, Iowa and New Mexico, currently don't require registered voters to present identification at all. North Carolina, which currently has no ID requirement, passed a new voter ID law that goes into effect in 2016, while Wisconsin's 2011 law was struck down by a federal judge in 2012. There is no ID requirement in Wisconsin while an appeal of the case is pending.
Obtaining a Voter ID
If you don't have an acceptable form of ID for your state, you can obtain a free government-issued photo ID for the purpose of voting. Most voter ID cards are issued through the state agency that issues driver's licenses, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Department of Transportation. You will need to fill out an application supplied by the government agency and present one or more documents proving your identity. In Texas, voter ID applicants are also fingerprinted.
Proof of Identity, Residency and Citizenship
Acceptable documents to prove your identity, residency and citizenship also differ from state to state, so check with your state before applying. Some typical documents to prove identity or citizenship include a U.S. birth certificate, a Social Security card, a non-expired passport or a Certificate of Naturalization. Some states, like Kansas and Indiana, require you to prove residency. Acceptable documents may include recent utility bills, W-2s or pay stubs. All documents must be original or certified copies.
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Voter Identification Requirements
- Pro Publica: Everything You've Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws
- New York Times: Students Joining Battle to Upend Laws on Voter ID
- Election Protection: Texas Voter Toolkit
- Election Protection: Kansas Voter Toolkit
- Election Protection: Indiana Voter Toolkit
- Election Protection: Georgia Voter Toolkit
- Election Protection: Voter ID Toolkits
- Arkansas Secretary of State: Face Your Vote
- Mississippi Secretary of State: How to Get a Voter ID
- Sean Gardner/Getty Images News/Getty Images