State voter identification laws, especially photo ID laws, are a complex and contentious topic. Supporters say that the laws are needed to combat voter fraud. Critics see these laws as an intentional tactic to disenfranchise young, elderly, minority and poor voters.
Eleven percent of U.S. citizens, or roughly 21 million people, have no government-issued photo ID.
Surge in Photo ID Laws
In 2006, Indiana became the first state to enact a strict photo ID law, which was upheld two years later by the U.S. Supreme Court. Georgia’s law was upheld in 2007. This trickle turned into a deluge in 2011, when legislators in 34 states introduced bills requiring that voters show photo ID.
Of the laws that passed, a number are being challenged in federal and state courts. Some have been upheld as fair and others overturned as discriminatory.
Strict Photo ID States
In states with strict photo voter ID laws, voters must show photo ID at the polling place or present approved ID to election officials soon after the election.
As of Sept. 2012, these states include Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. Mississippi and South Carolina have passed strict photo ID laws that are awaiting approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
Non-strict Photo ID States
In states with non-strict photo ID laws, voters at polling places must show either a photo ID or meet some other state-specific requirements - such as answering personal questions correctly or being vouched for any another voter or poll worker.
These states include Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota. A New Hampshire law is awaiting approval from the U.S. Justice Department.
Non-photo ID States
In states with non-photo ID requirements, voters at polling places can present state-specific acceptable forms of ID, such as utility bills or bank statements.
These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
In the remaining 19 states, registered voters need only sign their names at the polls in order to vote.
Under federal law, anyone whose identity or voting precinct is in doubt can ask for a provisional ballot at the polling station. The voter then has a number of days (this varies from state to state) to return with required documentation and make their vote count.
A Civil Rights Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding voting rights can be complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. If you feel that your voting rights have been violated, please contact a civil rights lawyer for more detailed, specific information.