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What are voter ID laws?

A truly free and equal democratic society gives every citizen the same right and ability to vote. In the United States, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandated that we do just that - in part by outlawing things like literacy tests and poll taxes. These were devices that were meant to create barriers to voting for certain people - the poor, the uneducated, people of color, etc.

Then we solved voting! We're awesome!

Not quite. Measures like outright poll taxes may have been outlawed back in the 60s, but politicians got creative. Their new favorite method of voter restriction: strict voter ID laws.

Not quite. Measures like outright poll taxes may have been outlawed back in the 60s, but politicians got creative. Their new favorite method of voter restriction: strict voter ID laws.

Voter ID laws are partially so dangerous because they sound so innocuous. Generally they get passed under the guise of fraud prevention, and who wants fraud? The thing is, we don't really have any voter fraud, with or without voter ID laws - voter fraud occurs in just 0.0003-0.0025% of votes cast in the US. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, an American is more likely to be stuck by lightning than commit voter fraud.

But it's good to know who's voting. Why are Voter ID laws so dangerous?

In general, laws that require certain kinds of ID to vote end up acting like a poll tax. Getting the correct ID can require money and transportation, and ID laws generally disproportionately affect minorities, low-income voters and students.

That sucks. Are IDs required to vote in every state?

No, and not every state requires the same kinds of ID which makes it all the more confusing. 2/3rds of states had some type of voter ID law last election, but they vary in terms of strictness. Some require photo ID in order for a vote to be counted, others simply require voters to sign an affidavit saying they are who they claim to be.

  • In the 9 states with the strictest laws, voters have to provide their ID on or shortly after Election Day in order for their votes to be counted.
  • In seven of those nine states (GA, KS, WI, TN, MS, VA, and IN), voters are required to show a photo ID. This number has gone up considerably - only four states required it back in the hazy, heady days of 2012.
  • In three other states (AZ, ND, OH), voters must show ID but documents without photos are accepted.
  • In CO, FL, MT, OK, and RI, voters who do not have or show ID may vote on a provisional ballot and their identity will be validated later by election officials. This makes it difficult to find out if your vote was counted and correct the error.
  • In New Hampshire, election officials send a letter to anyone who signed a challenged voter affidavit because they did not show an ID, and these voters must return the mailing, confirming that they are indeed in residence as indicated on the affidavit. This is unhelpful if you're a student or otherwise without stable housing.
  • Pennsylvania and North Carolina have both enacted strict photo voter ID laws, but both were struck down by the courts and will not be in effect in 2017.

Check out the specific laws of your state here and pass that info along to everybody you know who will be voting on Tuesday!