Voter ID Laws Gain Momentum
All states require voters to identify themselves at the polls. But not all voter ID laws are the same. Some require a name and address, or a signature, while others ask for additional identification, such as a utility bill. The most strict accept only a few specific identification documents.
Around 2010, several states began introducing bills that would tighten requirements for ID at the polls -- so far 14 states have passed such laws. The bills' sponsors said they were concerned about in-person voter fraud, or people misrepresenting themselves at the polls, and that the new legislation would make the electoral process more secure.
Studies have shown that in-person voter fraud is rare. A 2010 analysis by Lorraine Minnite, a professor at the University of Rutgers, found that even after the Justice Department launched an aggressive campaign to root out voter fraud under the George W. Bush administration, more people were charged with violating migratory bird laws and committing national park violations than election fraud. But proponents of these laws argue that even a few cases of fraud are worth putting more security measures in place.
In most states, the laws have raised concerns that some eligible voters -- usually low-income voters, who are more likely to be black or Latino -- might not be able to cast a ballot, either because they can't afford or access the documents needed to procure the necessary ID. In Pennsylvania, for example, one analysis found that as many as 500,000 eligible voters didn't have one of the acceptable forms of identification. In North Carolina, the state board of elections estimated that more than 300,000 voters, a disproportionate number of whom are African-American, lacked a state-issued ID. In Texas, the state estimated in 2012 that roughly 800,000 registered voters, a disproportionate number of whom were Latino, lacked a state-issued ID card.
Civil-rights groups have challenged these laws in court, with mixed results. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Indiana law in 2008, determining that it wasn't unconstitutional to ask voters to show ID. In January 2014, a state judge struck down a similar law in Pennsylvania, finding that it put an undue burden on low-income and minority voters. In September, a federal court allowed Wisconsin's law to proceed. North Carolina and Texas are currently defending their laws in court.
Today, 19 states still allow voters to cast valid ballots if they aren't able to procure an ID. In South Dakota, for example, the law asks voters to present a photo ID, but they can also sign their name to ensure their signatures match. South Carolina allows voters who aren't able to procure a photo ID to present a voter registration card, which everyone in the state receives when registering to vote.
Note: Federal law requires first-time voters who did not provide identification when they registered by mail to present identification at the polls. Voters can show either an acceptable photo ID or a government-issued document, such as a utility bill, bearing the voter's name and address.