You’ve probably heard advocates from sides both push for either more or less voter ID restrictions, and you might be wondering exactly which documents the United States requires voters to have.
The short answer is: it depends entirely on the state. So, we’re going to cover a wide range of voting topics and common questions, including voter ID requirements by state and how to determine if you are eligible to vote.
Who Can Vote in U.S. Elections?
While eligibility to vote is established differently in each state, there are some general standards that you must meet if you want to vote. In order to vote in an election in your state, you must:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Meet your state’s residency requirements
- Register to vote prior to your state’s voter registration deadline (if the state requires voter registration)
- Be at least 18 years old on or before Election Day (some states allow 17 years olds to register to vote, if they will be 18 by Election day)
Voter ID Requirements in Each State
Some states do not require any ID at all, while most states require voters to present a government-issued ID, and other states, including Alaska, West Virginia, and Colorado allow you to show a certified copy of your U.S. birth certificate in order to vote.
The following U.S. states require some type of ID to vote:
|Photo ID||Non-Photo ID|
|North Carolina||West Virginia|
Controversy Surrounding Voter ID Requirements
Currently, there are voter ID requirements in 33 U.S. states. These laws vary by state, but in general, they require all voters to produce an acceptable form of ID in order to vote in elections. Supporters of voter ID laws feel that they are the best way to prevent election and voter fraud and prevent non-citizens from voting, since they are not eligible to under federal law.
However, there are many arguments that these laws are discriminatory. Opponents of voter ID laws claim that they have a greater impact on minorities, especially immigrants. This is because immigrants, even those who have legally become U.S. citizens, often have a more difficult time obtaining the required ID documents. A good example of this is the 2011 voter ID law in Texas.
The law demanded that all Texas voters must show at least two valid photo IDs to vote. However, there were multiple problems with this requirement. As a result, 18% of registered Texas voters being unable to produce two government-issued photo IDs that contained the same information as their voter registration cards. There were several different issues with this law, including the fact that:
- There were many voters with identical names within the same county
- A large number of voters had legally changed their names.
- Many voters had moved and the addresses did not match on their IDs.
- About 40% of Hispanic voters could not produce a government-issued ID (Texas has a large Hispanic population).
- Approximately 30%voters reported that there was no ID-issuing office located within a reasonable distance from their homes.
The Houston Chronicle conducted a study and found that this law negatively impacted 2.3 million Texas voters, and it was ultimately overturned by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Check out more on: Birth certificates for election identification in Texas
How to ensure you are prepared to vote
There are some steps you can take to make sure that you have everything you need to vote, so you can make sure that you can cast your vote on Election Day.
First, if your state requires a photo ID to vote, check your government-issued ID and make sure it is valid. If it will expire before Election Day, you should go ahead and renew it, if possible. You will likely need a certified copy of your birth certificate, but you can easily order your birth certificate online.
In addition, you can contact your jurisdiction’s election officials for more specific information on your state’s voter ID laws, or you can find the information online at NCSL.org.