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Voter ID FAQs

Voter ID Laws and Questions about Voter Identification

2/28/2014
The following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) reflect key considerations for states considering implementing voter ID legislation. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of questions or an exhaustive exploration of the issues surrounding voter ID. Instead, these FAQs provide an overview of voter ID requirements and issues surrounding their implementation. Also included is a discussion of recent litigation regarding voter ID and public opinion on the subject. 
 

For questions about any of the topics covered in these FAQs, please contact NCSL’s elections staff at elections-info@ncsl.org or 303-364-7700.

General FAQs

Q: What is voter ID?

A: ‘Voter ID’ refers to laws that require voters to show an identification document at the polls on Election Day. Photo voter ID laws require voters to show an ID that includes a photograph, such as a driver’s license. Non-photo voter ID laws allow voters to present a non-photo-bearing ID document, such as a utility bill or paycheck. 

Q: Which states have voter ID requirements?

A: A list of the states that have enacted voter ID requirements is available at our main voter ID page.

Q: Which states are currently considering new voter ID requirements? 

A: A list of pending voter ID bills is available at our voter ID legislation page.

Q: How do states without voter ID requirements verify a voter’s identity?

A: States with "non-documentary" ID requirements check other identifying information provided at the polling place against voter information on file. Voters may be required to sign an affidavit or poll book, or provide personal information. See our voter verification without ID documents page for more information. 

Q: Why is there controversy about requiring voters to show ID? 

A: Supporters of voter ID laws argue that they help prevent fraud and the perception of fraud. They also point out that voter ID is very popular with voters.

Opponents of voter ID laws argue that they disenfranchise eligible voters and add cost and inefficiency to the voting process.

 

Litigation 

Q: Have voter ID requirements been challenged in court? 

A: Yes. More than half of the voter id laws that have been enacted have faced at least one legal challenge.

Q: What have courts determined about voter ID? 

A: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s 2006 photo voter ID law in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.

In state courts, one voter ID lawsuit has succeeded in a court of final jurisdiction. The Missouri Supreme Court struck down that state’s photo voter ID law in 2006. Voter ID cases are also pending in a number of states, including Kansas, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

For more on active and archived voter ID cases, see the database of elections-related litigation at ElectionLaw@Moritz.

Q: What are some common challenges to ID laws? 

A: Voter ID laws have been challenged under both state and federal law. Many of the same arguments are raised in both state and federal cases. Among the most common of these arguments are that voter ID laws:

  • Impose an undue burden on the right to vote
  • Constitute a poll tax

Q:  How do state court cases on voter ID differ from federal court cases?

A: State constitutions often contain provisions that don’t appear in federal law, such as more specific language regarding the right to vote. So, there are also some arguments that are unique to state cases. These include, for example, the arguments that voter ID laws:

  • Constitute an unlawful additional qualification on the right to vote
  • Represent an unlawful unfunded mandate 

Implementation 

Q: What administrative changes may be required to implement voter ID laws? 

A: The exact changes officials have to make depend on the state’s current procedures and the particular provisions of the voter ID law. The following are some common changes:

  • Providing voter identification cards free of charge
  • Opening new ID-issuing agencies and/or expanding existing agencies’ hours
  • Acquiring technology for producing IDs
  • Revising or creating new voter information and outreach materials
  • Revising or creating new poll worker training programs and materials
  • Increasing the number of provisional ballots

Q: How much does it cost to implement a voter ID requirement? 

A: Estimates of the cost of implementation vary widely. See NCSL’s Costs of Voter ID LegisBrief.

In many states, legislative staff provide cost estimates for legislation. The “fiscal notes” for voter ID legislation in 2012 are available on NCSL’s Cost of Voter ID page.

As the fiscal notes show, cost estimates for voter ID vary considerably. There are at least five reasons for the variation:

  • Differences in the details of the legislation: The specifics of an ID proposal can affect its projected cost. For example, one proposal might require the purchase of new technology while another doesn’t.
  • Lack of details about implementation: In some cases, details about how a voter ID law would be implemented were not available when the fiscal note was drafted. In these cases, cost estimators made educated guesses about how the law might be implemented. Different projections about how the law might be implemented produce different cost estimates.
  • Accounting for all likely costs: Some of the costs of ID laws are indirect or difficult to predict and these costs may not be included in some estimates. For example, fiscal notes do not always include allocations for voter education and they rarely (if ever) include estimates for litigation costs.
  • Absorption of costs: Some states project that certain costs of photo ID laws, such as the expenses associated with providing free voter IDs, can be absorbed in the operating budgets of state agencies or offset by federal HAVA funding.
  • Local costs: Election costs are generally borne by local jurisdictions. Fiscal notes do not always include these costs.    

Where can I learn more? 

For questions about any of the topics covered in these FAQs, please contact NCSL’s elections staff at elections-info@ncsl.org or 303-364-7700.

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