Designed to help prevent the casting of fraudulent ballots, requiring a person to present identification in order to vote has been labeled by some as a potential burden on seniors—many of whom do not possess a valid driver's license or passport.
"These laws are very controversial," says Paul Hancock, J.D., partner at K&L Gates, and former Department of Justice Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, "Some people feel that they have a disproportionate impact on the elderly and minorities."
It's a controversy that is generally divided along party lines; with Democrats wanting to ensure that every eligible American can vote, and Republicans wanting to ensure that every voter is a legitimate, living citizen.
Both sides present valid arguments, according to Hancock. But it would be a mistake to assume that the issue is one that transcends political preferences. "There's definitely another side to the debate as well—it's not devoid of politics," he says.
Voter ID laws explained
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 33 states currently require a prospective voter to provide some form of identification in order to cast a ballot.
Commonly accepted forms of identification include: driver's license, birth certificate, passport, social security card, paycheck, and utility bill.
Whether or not a photo must accompany the ID varies on a state-by-state basis:
- Photo: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin, Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, South Dakota.
- Non-photo: Arizona, Ohio, Virginia, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Washington.
Voter ID laws can also be referred to as either "strict" or "non-strict." In strict states, a person's ballot is considered provisional (invalid) until they can produce an accepted form of identification. Non-strict states allow voters to prove their identity in other ways, including: having a poll worker verify who they are, or by signing an affidavit of identity.
So many states have some version of voter ID in place that it makes the political side of the debate moot—at least when it comes to the current election. For now, there are far more pressing political issues for Americans to focus on.
The ultimate takeaway is this: anyone who is planning to vote for the next president needs to get their hands on the right kind of identification as soon as possible.
If you or your loved one doesn't have a valid driver's license or passport, double-check with your local elections office. They will be able to tell you which kinds of voter identification are required by your particular state, and help you come up with a plan to get a valid ID in time for Election Day.