The NCSL Blog


By Dan Diorio

As part our lead-up to the 2016 elections, NCSL’s elections team is looking at how certain election topics have changed across the country since we last elected a president . For the May issue of our elections newsletter, The Canvass, we're examining voter ID.

Voter id formVoter identification laws require voters to show some form of identification at the polls to receive a ballot and vote. Proponents see increasing requirements for identification as a way to prevent in-person voter impersonation and increase public confidence in the election process. Opponents say there is little fraud of this kind, and the burden on voters unduly restricts the right to vote and imposes unnecessary costs and administrative burdens on elections administrators.

Here’s how things have changed since 2012:

  • In 2012: 29 states required some form of documentary evidence of voter identification at the polls. Of those, four were considered strict photo ID laws—Georgia, Indiana, Kansas and Tennessee. 
  • In 2016: 33 states require some form of documentary evidence of voter identification at the polls. Of these, nine are considered strict photo ID laws—Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin. 

States that will have voter ID requirements implemented for the first time for the presidential election this year:

  • Mississippi (strict photo ID), New Hampshire, North Carolina and Wisconsin (strict photo ID).

States that have strengthened existing voter ID requirements between 2012 and 2016:

  • Alabama (nonstrict photo ID, although some observers call it strict), North Dakota (strict photo ID), Rhode Island, Texas (strict photo ID) and Virginia (strict photo ID).

During this time other states, including Pennsylvania and Arkansas, enacted voter ID laws that were later struck down, and are not included here. And this year, West Virginia enacted a photo ID law that will go into effect in 2018, so it also is not included here.

Additionally, it is possible that some states that have voter ID requirements in place right now may not by Election Day, pending court action. States to watch are North Carolina and Texas.

To see current laws in effect, and the difference between and strict and nonstrict photo ID, visit NCSL’s Voter Identification Requirements page. To see a history of the adoption of voter ID laws, visit NCSL’s Voter ID History page. To learn what is required in the states that do not require a document to be shown at the polling place, visit NCSL’s Voter Verification Without Documentation page.

Be sure to subscribe to The Canvass for more election updates. See the March issue for a look at how early and no-excuse absentee voting changed and the April issue for how same-day voter registration changed from 2012 to 2016.

Dan Diorio is a policy specialist in NCSL's Elections Program.

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.