Despite being one of the hottest topics in elections policy for the last several years, voter ID is not new. The first state to require voters to show some kind of identification document at the polls was South Carolina, in 1950. No photo was required—just a document bearing the voter’s name. In 1970, Hawaii joined South Carolina with a voter ID requirement. Texas (1971), Florida (1977), and Alaska (1980) rounded out the first five. In some states the request was for an ID with a photo; in others, any document, with or without a photo, was fine. In all these states, provisions existed for voters to be able to cast a regular ballot even if they did not have the requested ID.
Over time, and with little fanfare, more states began to ask voters to present an identification document. By 2000, 14 states did so. These states had Democratic and Republican majorities.
In the 2000s, voter ID as an issue began to take center stage. The Commission on Federal Election Reform (aka the Carter-Baker Commission), in 2005 made a bipartisan recommendation for voter identification at the polls. Soon thereafter, Georgia and Indiana pioneered a new, “strict” form of voter ID. Instead of requesting an ID, these states required an ID. If a voter did not have the required ID at the polling place, he or she voted on a provisional ballot, and that ballot was not to be counted unless the voter returned within the next few days to an elections office and showed the required ID. These were first implemented in 2008 (after Indiana’s law was given the go-ahead by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Crawford v. Marion County).
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, the pace of adoption accelerated. States without ID requirements continued to adopt them, and states that had less-strict requirements adopted stricter ones. Many of the stricter laws were challenged in court, with mixed results.
Today, voter ID remains an active topic in elections, with 35 states having laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Learn more about how voter ID requirements have changed over the last two decades.
For a timeline, see below.
For a printable chronology, please contact NCSL’s elections team.
Voter ID Chronology