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The Canvass | October 2021

September 27, 2021

Voter ID: Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

Proponents say, “Voter ID laws prevent fraud.” Opponents say, “Voter ID laws disenfranchise some voters.” NCSL says, “It’s an evergreen topic!”

The Canvass has featured voter ID laws, those that request or require voters to show an ID at a polling place, a whopping 14 times since 2008—more than any other single election policy. Voter ID received the most attention from policymakers in the early 2010s, and though interest has waned some over the past decade, it has never gone away. Each year, approximately two-thirds of the states see at least one bill aiming to add, repeal or alter voter ID laws in the state (see Table 1 below).

Prior to this year, the most significant enactments occurred in 2018 when both Arkansas and North Carolina voters approved ballot measures amending the states’ constitutions to require photo voter ID. Passage of Arkansas’s constitutional amendment marked the conclusion of a long struggle to establish photo voter ID in the Natural State: Similar legislation in 2013 and 2017 faced court challenges. Citing racial bias, North Carolina’s law was struck down in September 2021.

In 2021, interest in voter ID has spiked again, culminating in several significant enactments for the first time since 2018. As more voters chose to vote by mail, an interest in voter ID requirements for absentee/mail ballots also came to the fore.

Table 1: Voter ID Introductions, 2011-2021

Year

# of States

# of Introductions

# of Enactments

2011

37

138

12

2013

35

121

15

2015

34

115

8

2017

37

113

6

2019

31

92

12

2021

39

160

6

In short, it’s time for us to revisit voter ID for a 15th time. This month, we take a brief look at the history of voter ID, and then turn our attention to what’s new and different in 2021. Read on for our analysis or find the facts on NCSL’s voter ID webpage.

Steady Growth, 2000-2020

Requirements for voters to show some form of identification at the polls have become much more widespread since 2000. Back then, 13 states had voter ID requirements—by 2020, that number had nearly tripled to 34. See the map below for details.

States with Voter Identification Requirements

This increase demonstrates slow, yet steady growth of voter ID laws across the country—but that’s just one part of the voter ID landscape. Over the same two decades, some states with voter ID laws also made theirs stricter.

NCSL categorizes voter ID requirements by type (photo or non-photo) and options for alternatives (strict or non-strict). When states first establish voter ID requirements, they often implement a non-photo, non-strict law. Once established, however, a handful of states have taken further action to either require a photo ID or limit alternatives for voters who don’t have the proper identification. Of the 21 states that started with non-photo, non-strict requirements, nine have made their laws stricter. Just two states have eased their ID requirements: Texas in 2017 and Virginia in 2020. The Texas change came after a 2011 voter ID bill was found to intentionally discriminate against Latino and Black voters, and the 2017 bill creates alternatives for voters who cannot reasonably obtain one of the seven forms of ID accepted at the polls.

A Flurry of Activity in 2021

Action on voter ID was down over the past few years (see Table 1), but this year it came roaring back. Most notably, Wyoming enacted the state’s first voter ID law after similar bills failed in 2013, 2017 and 2020, bringing the total of states with voter ID laws to 35.

Like virtually all bills to add voter ID requirements or make existing requirements stricter, the action this year has been in Republican-led states. Arkansas and Wyoming added or strengthened existing voter ID requirements, while Indiana and North Dakota expanded the types of identification accepted for voting. Montana’s bill did both. See what didn’t pass, as well as previous year’s action, in NCSL’s election legislation database.

This year’s enactments:

  • Arkansas HB 1112 eliminated the option to cast a provisional ballot with a sworn statement for voters without photo ID. This moves Arkansas from NCSL’s non-strict photo ID category to the strict photo ID category. Separately, Arkansas HB 1244 removed the exemption from showing a photo ID for those with sincere religious beliefs preventing them from taking a photograph. 
  • Indiana HB 1485 expanded the definition of identification for voting to include a tribal ID.
  • Montana SB 169 required voters without a state, military, tribal ID or passport to provide two forms of alternative ID, one of which must include a photo. This enactment also added concealed carry permits to the list of accepted voter IDs.
  • North Dakota HB 1447 allowed institutions of higher education to issue students a printable document containing the institution's letterhead or seal and the student’s legal name, current residential address, date the residential address was established and date of birth. This printable document, along with a student photo ID card, will be accepted as a valid form of voter ID.
  • Wyoming HB 75 enacted a strict, non-photo ID law. While some might call Wyoming's law a strict photo ID law, because most voters will show a photo ID before voting, the state will accept Medicare and Medicaid ID cards (neither of which include a photo) through Dec. 31, 2029.  

But the action doesn’t stop there—citizen initiatives in Missouri and Nebraska, as well as a legislatively referred constitutional amendment in Pennsylvania, all seek to put the voter ID question before voters. None of these attempts have qualified for the ballot yet—the citizen initiative campaigns are both in the signature-gathering phase, and Pennsylvania’s legislative referral has passed the Senate but has not yet come up for a vote in the House.

Why so much activity on voter ID this year? It’s hard to say, but the increased public support for voter ID (a recent Monmouth University poll shows 80% of Americans support photo ID requirements), a contentious presidential election and refuted claims of voter fraud are likely contributors to increased legislative interest.

“It is a necessary function of our Republic to provide our citizens with confidence that our elections are secure, fair, and valid,” says Wyoming Representative Chuck Gray (R) of his state’s new voter ID law.

But not everyone agrees. “Voter identification laws are an unnecessary hindrance on the constitutional right to vote given that voter impersonation fraud is one of the rarest forms of crimes,” says Nebraska Senator Adam Morfeld (D). “These laws have a disproportionate impact on those who are highly mobile, elderly and people with disabilities.”

What was once a policy no-go for Democrats, however, has become a place for compromise—at least on the national level. Some Democrats, including Stacey Abrams, have expressed openness to voter ID, just not the more restrictive forms of it.

Recent research may have played a role in that shift. A 2014 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that voter ID laws had mixed effects on turnout, while a 2019 study by Enrico Cantoni and Vincent Pons found voter ID laws don’t dampen turnout. Right-leaning groups, such as the Honest Elections Project, still advocate for photo ID laws, and those on the left, such as the Brennan Center, still critique voter ID laws for disenfranchising voters, especially seniors, minorities and students—but, compared to a decade ago, the heat is off. 

Identification For Absentee/Mail Voting

NCSL defines “voter ID” as the identification voters provide at a polling place before they can cast a ballot—i.e., voter ID for in-person voting. This year is different because some lawmakers have shifted their attention to identification requirements for requesting and returning absentee/mail ballots.

In general, states have rigorous processes for both absentee ballot requests and for verifying voted ballots when they are returned.

In the vast majority of states, election officials verify the identity of anyone who submits an absentee ballot application (the states that don’t do verify voters at the time of application do so instead when ballots are returned). The most common way this is done is by checking the applicant’s information and eligibility against the voter registration record—that’s the case in 35 states. Of those states, 18 conduct signature verification in addition to checking the applicant’s voter registration record. At least 16 states have online absentee ballot request portals, which can also ensure the accuracy of the request.

And yet, coming into 2021, six states required voters to provide an ID or take additional steps when requesting an absentee ballot, such as getting the application notarized. This year, FloridaGeorgia and Texas passed laws requiring voters to provide either their driver’s license number or the last four digits of their social security number when requesting a ballot, bringing the total to eight.

As for the return of voted absentee/mail ballots, most states conduct signature verification, and voters may also be asked to provide a driver’s license number or the last four digits of a social security number. Thirteen states require additional information, such as a witness signature, notary signature or—as is the case in Alabama and Arkansas—a copy of the voter’s ID with the voter’s ballot. The main changes this year aren’t particularly big: Georgia and Texas moved from requiring just a signature to a signature plus a driver’s license number or the last four digits of the voter’s social security number.

Even though these changes may be small, they represent a significant shift away from voter ID at the polling place to ID requirements for voting outside of the polling place. If this trend toward more attention to how absentee ballot are verified continues, you know we’ll take it up in a future issue of The Canvass.


Ask NCSL: How many states enacted ballot cure processes in 2021?

This year, five states passed laws allowing voters a chance to cure absentee/mail ballots—that is, to fix any problems with a signature or to provide missing information before the ballot envelope is opened and the ballot gets processed and counted. Those five states—IndianaKentuckyTexasVirginia and Vermont—join 18 others in providing voters the opportunity to correct signature discrepancies.

To initiate a cure, local election officials reach out to voters—typically by mail, though officials also use phone numbers and email addresses when available. Kentucky’s bill, for example, requires local election officials to make “reasonable efforts” to contact the voter and allow that voter to cure their signature no later than 7:00 p.m. on Election Day. Indiana’s bill specifies that voters must be contacted by mail and also by email or phone if either of those pieces of contact information are available.


A Q&A with Delaware Senator Kyle Evans Gay

This month we spoke with Delaware Senator Kyle Evans Gay (D). She was elected in 2020 to represent the state’s fifth senate district, which includes Wilmington’s northern suburbs and contains approximately 42,000 people. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you become the chair of the Senate Elections & Government Affairs Committee?

As a newly elected legislator, the opportunity to chair a committee is both wonderful and intimidating, but I am grateful for it. I have a background in government law, and after 2020, it was clear that election law was going to be a focus for a lot of states.

I feel strongly about the legislature’s ability to make elections open and accessible and to ensure that our Department of Elections has everything they need to successfully administer elections in our state. Elections are the foundation of our democracy, and in order to address the issues before us, we need to ensure that elections reflect the will of the people.

One of the biggest things Delaware did this year was pass automatic voter registration (AVR)—why was that legislation important?

One of the things that folks don’t know about Delaware is that—even before this legislation (SB 5)—we had a first-in-class voter registration system through the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). That registration system was developed over 15 years ago, and it streamlined communication between the Department of Elections and the DMV. As a result, the agencies both had accurate information, and Delaware increased voter access by giving people a simple way to register to vote, especially since we don’t have same-day voter registration.

What was new and different and needed this year was to take this first-in-class registration system and make that an opt-out system, rather than an opt-in system. This is more efficient and often less confusing for the voter. It increases participation and still gives individuals the opportunity to opt-out of registering. We will be able to institute this reform in a cost-effective way because of the existing registration system. 

But what is incredibly important about SB 5 is that it didn’t just make AVR possible through the DMV. It also makes it possible for the State Election Commissioner, in their discretion, to establish AVR in coordination with other state agencies, such as the Department of Labor or the Department of Social Services. That’s important because not everyone uses the DMV.

What are your other election priorities for Delaware in the future?

I'm looking forward to continuing to work to make the right to vote in Delaware accessible to all. During Covid, for example, we were able to effectively hold not one, but two elections that included a vote-by-mail option made possible by an executive order that permitted no-excuse absentee voting. Individuals could vote safely and on their own schedule, and I’d like to see that made permanent.

Unfortunately, the bar is high. Absentee voting limits are stipulated in our constitution, so in order to provide no-excuse absentee voting, we need to modify the constitution. HB 75 sought to do that, but if failed to pass the House this year. While the bill may come back for a vote, it will need bipartisan support.

I’m also interested in restoration of voting rights. In Delaware, people convicted of certain crimes lose their right to vote, and although these crimes are difficult to discuss and victims remain important, we have to ask ourselves what we’re really doing with voting rights if we’re permanently removing them from a certain class of individuals.

What aspect of Delaware’s elections makes you the proudest?

Delaware is a small state with fewer than 1 million people. That means that candidates and electeds are able to personally engage with many of the people they represent. Whether we're discussing potholes or policy, I'm grateful that I get to hear from so many people who are engaged with our state government. I believe that our state election systems encourage healthy debates, and I'm proud that we have been able to modernize our elections while maintaining a commnity focus. This is one reason why our General Assembly continues to welcome new legislators who more and more reflect the communities they were elected to represent. 


News Worth Noting

California Voters Reject Recall

California Governor Gavin Newsom decisively avoided ouster with over 60% of voters rejecting the recall attempt. Newsom becomes the second governor in U.S. history (the other was Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker in 2012) to retain his seat after a recall election. California’s last gubernatorial recall occurred in 2003, when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced Gray Davis.

North Carolina Voter ID Law Struck Down

Following a three-week trial in April, North Carolina’s Superior Court handed down its decision in Holmes v. Moore, striking down a 2018 voter ID law which judges say demonstrated discriminatory intent against Black voters. In a 2-1 decision, the 102-page order details the rocky history of S.B. 824, which sought to institute a photo voter ID requirement after voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote. The judges held that while legislative action for implementation was legitimate, “Other, less restrictive voter ID laws would have sufficed to achieve the legitimate nonracial purposes of implementing the constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, deterring fraud, or enhancing voter confidence.” An appeal is likely.

Wisconsin Senator Provides Elections Crash Course

After enduring a year of election mis- and disinformation, Wisconsin Senator Kathy Bernier (R)—a former county clerk—organized an informational hearing with nonpartisan state and local election officials to explain how Wisconsin’s elections work. “I want to make sure that the misinformation that is perpetuated out there has been addressed,” Bernier said. Elections are complex, and knowing the facts can help legislators address real issues, rather than hypothetical ones.

Lessons Learned From the 2020 Election

new report from the MIT Election Data & Science Lab and American Enterprise Institute examines the dynamics of last year’s election, finding that despite historic challenges, the electoral system was both resilient and robust. Produced for the U.S. Elections Assistance Commission, the report details how election administration adapted—thanks in large-part to hardworking election officials—during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure safety and security throughout the process.

NASS Election Administration Reports

Have a question about election administration? If you’re reading this, you know you can come to NCSL, but The National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS) also has a bevvy of resources. NASS’s Election Administration Reports offer 50-state scans on laws governing electioneering, poll watchers, in-person voting and more. As frequent users of NASS’s resources, we can vouch; they’re excellent.

EAC Releases Redistricting Guidance for Local Election Officials

To ensure every voter receives the correct ballot, election officials must first determine which addresses are located within a voting district. Redistricting can make this process even more complicated. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s new guide offers critical considerations to help local election officials navigate making technical changes to precinct and electoral district information in their election management systems.

Election Official Legal Defense Network Launched

With election officials facing the threat of criminal penalties for performing their duties, veteran election attorneys David Becker, Bob Bauer and Ben Ginsberg announced the launch of the Election Official Legal Defense Network (EOLDN). As part of the nonpartisan, nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research, the EOLDN connects pro bono attorneys to election officials who request assistance. This service is available to all election officials, regardless of political affiliation, state or county location. Bauer and Ginsberg served as the respective Democrat and Republican co-chairs of the Presidential Commission on Election Administration.

Election Workers Face Harassment, Receive Little Help

Death threats, harassment and acts of intimidation against U.S. election workers reached a fever pitch after the November 2020 election. Despite this surge, a recent Reuters analysis found only a handful of arrests out of the hundreds of identified incidents of intimidation and harassment of election workers and officials nationwide. The report suggests that a breakdown in coordination and accountability among various levels of law enforcement may be at fault.

Hurricane Ida Postpones Louisiana Fall Elections

Statewide and municipal elections in Louisiana will occur about a month later than originally anticipated this fall. Governor John Bel Edwards ordered the delay, citing damage from recent Hurricane Ida, which affected roughly 42% of the state’s eligible voters. Contests scheduled for Oct. 9 will move to Nov. 13, with the original Nov. 13 contests now occurring on Dec. 11.

Conference Addresses Election Subversion Concerns

The UCI Law Fair Elections and Free Speech Center held a virtual conference bringing together election law experts, political scientists and state practitioners for robust discussions on election administration, the health of U.S. democracy and possible solutions for addressing hyper-partisanship, combatting misinformation and restoring voter confidence. You can watch the event in its entirety or browse the Center’s free upcoming events.

Vax and Vote—or Vice Versa!

As early voting gets underway in Broward and Palm Beach Counties for special primary elections, voters will now have a chance to “Elect their candidate and elect NOT to get COVID,” says Broward Supervisor of Elections, Joe Scott. Vaccines will be administered at all early voting locations in Broward County and four locations in Palm Beach County beginning Oct. 23rd.


From the NCSL Elections Team

Join us for the NCSL Legislative Summit in Tampa, Fla., Nov. 3-5! Our team has an exciting and innovative lineup that’s sure to provide you with new insights, opportunities for cross-state connections and more. We hope to see you at one or all of these sessions:

  • How Did 2020 Change the Election Integrity Landscape? Wednesday, Nov. 3 | 10:30-11:30 a.m.
  • Election Lessons from 2020: Absentee/Mail Voting, Wednesday, Nov. 3 | 11:45 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
  • What Election Policymakers Wish Election Officials Knew—and Vice Versa, Wednesday, Nov. 3 | 2:00-3:15 p.m.
  • Redistricting: A History of Innovation, Wednesday, Nov. 3 | 3:30-5:00 p.m.
  • Redistricting & Elections Standing Committee Meeting and More, Thursday, Nov. 4 | 10:30-11:30 a.m.
  • The Redistricting Road Map: Where Are We Now? Thursday, Nov. 4 | 1:00-2:00 p.m.
  • The Census: What’s Happened, What’s Next, Thursday, Nov. 4 | 2:15 -3:45 p.m.
  • Five Favorite Ideas: Legislators Make Their Pitches, Thursday, Nov. 4 | 4:00-5:00 p.m.

And for those who will be arriving on Tuesday, Nov. 2—join us for a tour of the Hillsborough County elections office at 2 p.m.

Questions, comments, concerns? Let us know how we can help.

—Mandy Zoch, Wendy Underhill and Saige Draeger

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