Voter Suppression and Voter ID Laws

There were 14 states that passed stricter voter ID laws in time for the 2016 election, including Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. These new laws were introduced as a way to prevent voter fraud.

Voter fraud involves someone impersonating a voter or casting a vote when they are ineligible. Research into voter fraud has found the problem to be exceedingly rare. In fact, there were only 31 credible allegations of voter fraud over a 17-year period between 2000 and 2014, when more than 1 billion votes were cast. Additionally, voting by ineligible voters (felons, for example) cannot be prevented by a voter ID.

Unfortunately, data shows the impact of these laws has been felt, instead, by certain groups of people who were less likely to already possess the kinds of identification the new laws required. These were most often people of color, poor people, the elderly, and young people.

What Are Voter ID Laws?

Voter ID laws require that a voter, or prospective voter, present a specific type of identification or set of forms in order to cast a ballot, typically an ID that has:

  • A photo or a specific type of photo
  • A specific type of address

In order to get an acceptable ID, a person must provide documentation of their identity and address – documentation that some people may not have, may not be able to access, or may not be able to secure for free. Without the ability to get that ID, they cannot vote.

Those who oppose strict identification laws argue that this amounts to voter suppression. Many of the voter ID laws faced legal challenges in court.

Which States Have Strict ID Laws?

The National Conference of State Legislatures identifies the following states as having “strict" voter ID laws.

  • Strict photo ID required: Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin
  • Strict non-photo ID required: Arizona, North Dakota, and Ohio

Which Voters Lack Strict Identification?

According to a 2012 American National Elections Study, white Americans are by far the most likely group of people to already own acceptable photographic IDs like a driver's license or a passport.

Americans who do not have acceptable IDs:

  • 15% of 17 to 20-year-olds
  • 13% black Americans
  • 12% of adults living in households with incomes of less than $25,000
  • 11% of 21 to 24-year-olds
  • 10% of Hispanic Americans

Voter ID Laws and Legal Challenges in Select States

Here is a closer look at several states' voter ID laws that were passed by state legislatures on the premise of preventing voter fraud, but have been challenged as being discriminatory and resulting in voter suppression.

Texas ID Law

A strict photo ID law was passed by Texas lawmakers in 2011 and required voters in the state to show: state driver's license or ID card, concealed handgun license, U.S. passport, military ID card, or U.S citizenship certificate with a photo in order to vote.

The law, known as Senate Bill 14, took effect in 2013 and was struck down in 2014 after a federal appellate court determined it had a discriminatory effect on black and Hispanic voters. Experts testified that more than 600,000 Texans lacked the required identification under the voter ID law.

The Texas legislature passed a slightly less strict version of the law in 2017, called Senate Bill 5, which permitted those who did not have one of the approved forms of ID to vote if they signed a statement saying why they did not have the required form of ID. They were also required to show another form of ID such as a utility bill.

This version of the law was upheld in 2018 by the same federal appellate court that struck down the original version of the law.

North Dakota ID Law

North Dakota passed a controversial voter ID law in 2017 that required voter identification to include a current residential address that could not be a P.O. Box. This effectively excluded thousands of Native Americans who live on reservations.

State and county governments never assigned residential addresses on rural reservations. In some places, an address was assigned but never communicated, and road signs are rare. In some places, roads had multiple names. In some instances, homes had been assigned multiple numbers or existed in multiple zip codes.

The law was challenged in the courts, but in October 2018, the Supreme Court allowed the voter identification law to go into effect, in time for the 2018 election. This lack of address uniformity caused some voters with IDs to have their absentee ballot applications rejected as having an invalid address.

North Carolina Voter ID Law

In 2013, the North Carolina legislature passed a statute to require voters to present a photo ID in the form of a state driver's license, a state-issued ID, a military ID, or a passport. That statute, which supporters said was aimed at preventing voter fraud, was struck down by a federal court of appeals, which ruled that it was enacted with racially discriminatory intent.

In 2018, a constitutional amendment was added to the ballot and the Voter ID Amendment was approved by 55% of the voters. After the amendment passed, the General Assembly of North Carolina approved Senate Bill 824, which once again designated what type of ID was acceptable for voting. The security criteria applied to IDs meant that many employer IDs and most student IDs would no longer be acceptable.

In February 2020, the North Carolina's Court of Appeals on Tuesday blocked the voter ID law from taking effect.

Wisconsin Voter ID Law

Wisconsin's voter ID law, which passed in 2012, required voters to present a Wisconsin state drivers' license, a state ID, a passport, a military ID, naturalization papers, or a tribal ID. A student ID is acceptable only if it has a signature and a two-year expiration date. Voters who lack an acceptable ID can cast a provisional ballot and return later with an acceptable ID.

It was estimated that about 300,000 eligible voters lacked the proper form of identification. While a voter without proper ID can vote using a provisional ballot, they must come back with an approved ID within three days.

New Hampshire ID Law

The New Hampshire Legislature enacted a law in 2012 that required voters to show an “acceptable" ID (along with other options for identification). New Hampshire further requires voters to register in person at the clerk's office, up to 10 days before an election, or at the polls on election day.

Part of the law suggested that voters would be obligated to apply for a New Hampshire driver's licenses if they registered to vote. The law was struck down as unconstitutional.

New Hampshire's law also allowed law enforcement to knock on the door of a prospective voter to ensure that they lived at the address where they were registered to vote. This was viewed by some people as a form of voter intimidation.

If You Experience Voter Suppression

If you believe you have been the victim of voter suppression because of a change in your state's voter identification laws, talk to a civil rights attorney.