What Is a REAL ID, and Do I Need It to vote?

A REAL ID is a stronger driver's license or state ID that you will need to board an airplane. But do you need it to vote? 

In 2005, the federal government passed a law requiring all U.S. citizens to secure a REAL ID to travel. Congress passed the REAL ID Act as a result of 9/11. The purpose was to set higher standards for issuing legal forms of identification.

The law requires people to get a REAL ID before air travel, among other things. You have until 2025 to get your new ID. The good news is that you don't need a REAL ID to vote in the United States. Of course, the law could change. For now, traditional forms of identification will suffice for voting.

Here, we'll explain REAL ID and how you can get one. We'll also briefly discuss the identification cards voters can use at the polling center.

What is the REAL ID Act?

Congress passed the REAL ID Act in 2005, four years after Sept. 11, 2001. The act establishes standards for photo identification cards (like a driver's license). The new law calls for stricter rules for issuing photo IDs. It also requires people to provide more concrete and unique documentation to secure a new ID.

Most people associate REAL IDs with flying on a commercial flight, but you also need them for:

  • Entering a power plant
  • Accessing federal facilities

A REAL ID doesn't replace a U.S. passport. You can't use your REAL ID to cross the border to Mexico or Canada. You still need a passport to do that. You also need a passport to travel on international flights.

Deadline for REAL ID Enforcement

The government has extended the deadline for enforcement of REAL IDs to May 7, 2025. The government extended the deadline during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of Homeland Security may extend the deadline again.

If you don't get a REAL ID, you will need an acceptable photo ID to board a commercial flight, enter a power plant, or access a federal facility.

Requirements for Getting a REAL ID

Every state has specific laws on REAL IDs. The best thing to do is contact your local DMV and ask the staff what you'll need to apply for this new photo identification card.

California requires several points of ID to receive a REAL ID. At a minimum, you must have at least one of the following:

You'll also need to supply documents proving where you live. You can do this using a current utility bill, bank statement, military ID, or government check with your address on it.

California is just one example of what you may need to get your REAL ID. This may seem like a lot of documentation. But that is the point of the REAL ID Act. The government wants to ensure you are who you say you are before issuing your ID.

Do I Need a REAL ID to Vote after 2024?

The short answer to this question is no. States do not need REAL IDs to vote. But, a REAL ID is an acceptable form of identification if your state requires a photo ID to register to vote or cast your ballot on election day.

Some of the acceptable forms or types of ID for voting purposes include:

  • Military identification
  • Social Security card
  • Photo ID card
  • State ID card
  • Student ID
  • United States passport
  • Voter identification card
  • Voter registration card
  • Government document with your name on it

When you arrive at the voting center, the poll workers will ask for your identification. As long as you have enough ID, you shouldn't have any problems.

You Don't Have To Solve This on Your Own; Get a Lawyer's Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and protect your civil rights.

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