July 28, 2016


The U.S. Department of Justice has denied South Carolina's request for pre-clearance of its voter ID law. The D.O.J. found the law discriminatory because the state's minority voters are 20 percent more likely than white voters to lack a photo I.D. that meets the standard for voting. The South Carolina attorney general and governor have both said they will seek a reversal of the D.O.J. decision. Still pending before the Department is a request by Texas for pre-clearance of its new voter ID law.


Thirty-one states require all voters to show ID before voting at the polls.  In 15 of these, the ID must include a photo of the voter; in the remaining 16, non-photo forms of ID are acceptable.  Voter ID laws can be broken down into the three following categories:

  • Strict Photo ID (8 states):  Voters must show a photo ID in order to vote.  Voters who are unable to show photo ID at the polls are permitted to vote a provisional ballot, which is counted only if the voter returns to election officials within several days after the election to show a photo ID.  At the beginning of 2011, there were just two states–Georgia and Indiana–with strict photo ID laws.  Two states–Kansas and Wisconsin–passed new strict photo ID laws in 2011, and three states with non-photo ID laws–South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas–amended them to make them strict photo ID laws. None of these new laws is in effect yet, although they likely will be before the 2012 elections. Also in 2011, Mississippi voters approved via the citizen initiative process a strict photo ID requirement. The legislature will have to pass implementing legislation before the requirement can take effect. See the notes below Table 1 for more information regarding effective dates for new legislation.
  • Photo ID (7 states):  Voters are asked to show a photo ID in order to vote.  Voters who are unable to show photo ID are still allowed to vote if they can meet certain other critieria.  In some states, a voter with ID can vouch for a voter without.  Other states ask a voter without ID to provide personal information such as a birth date, or sign an affidavit swearing to his or her identity.  Voters without ID are not required to return to election officials after the election and show a photo ID in order to have their ballots counted in the manner that voters without ID in the strict photo ID states are.  The seven states with photo ID laws are Alabama, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota.
  • Non-Photo ID (16 states):  All voters must show ID at the polls.  The list of acceptable IDs is varied and includes options that do not have a photo, such as a utility bill or bank statement with the voter's name and address. Rhode Island passed a new voter ID law in 2011. It takes effect in stages — beginning in 2012, voters will be required to show an ID (although not necessarily a photo ID) at the polls, and in 2014 a photo ID requirement will take effect.

For specifics on what forms of identification are acceptable and the options available to voters who cannot present identification, see Table 2 .

State Requirements for Voter ID

Table 1. State Requirements for Voter Identification

States that Request or Require Photo ID

States that Require ID (Photo Not Required)

Strict Photo ID




Mississippi (6)

South Carolina (1)


Texas (1)

Wisconsin (2)

Photo ID

Alabama (1), (5)






South Dakota










North Dakota


Oklahoma (3)

Rhode Island (4)





(1) In Alabama, South Carolina and Texas, current non-photo voter ID laws stay in effect for the time being.  The new photo voter ID requirements will take effect after receiving preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. South Carolina's request for pre-clearance was denied on Dec. 23, 2011; an appeal is likely. Texas is currently involved in the pre-clearance process. Alabama's new photo ID law has a 2014 effective date, and the state has not yet applied for pre-clearance.

(2) Poll workers in Wisconsin will begin asking voters to present ID immediately, but voters will not be required to present ID until the February 2012 spring primary election.

(3) There are some who prefer to call Oklahoma a photo voter ID state, because most voters will show a photo ID before voting.  However, Oklahoma law also permits a voter registration card issued by the appropriate county elections board to serve as proof of identity in lieu of photo ID.

(4) Rhode Island's voter ID law takes effect in two stages. The first stage, requiring a non-photo ID, took effect on January 1, 2012. On January 1, 2014, a photo ID requirement will replace the non-photo ID law.

(5) Alabama's new photo ID requirement takes effect with the 2014 statewide primary election. The new law also requires preclearance from the U.S. Department of Justice. The delayed implementation date was intended to ensure that the timing of preclearance did not occur between the primary and general elections of 2012, thus creating voter confusion.

(6) Mississippi's new voter ID law was passed via the citizen initiative process. It takes effect 30 days after the certification of results, a date that will likely fall in late December 2011 or early January 2012. However, the language in constitutional amendment passed by MS voters on Nov. 8 is very general, and implementing legislation will be required before the amendment can take effect. The MS provision will also require pre-clearance by the US Department of Justice before it can take effect.

2011 Legislative Action

Voter ID has been the hottest topic of legislation in the field of elections this year.  There are just three states–Oregon, Vermont and Wyoming–that don't have a voter ID law and didn't consider voter ID legislation this year. The voter ID legislation under consideration this year can be broken down into two types:  proposals for new voter ID laws in states that don't presently require voter ID at the polls, and proposals to strengthen existing voter ID requirements in order to require photo ID at the polls. 

New Voter ID Proposals

These 20 states did not have laws requiring voter ID at the polls at the beginning of 2011, but saw legislation proposing it this year.  So far, three states have enacted new voter ID requirements–Kansas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.  Governors in Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed voter ID bills in 2011.  In Minnesota, supporters have vowed to pass a new bill in next year's session that would bypass the governor and go to the voters for approval instead.  This strategy is similar to what the Oklahoma legislature did in 2009 and 2010.  Mississippi voters approved a citizen initiative proposing voter ID in November 2011; that constitutional amendment will require the passage of implementing legislation before it can take effect.

  • CaliforniaAB 663 and 945: failed
  • IllinoisHB 3058 and SB 2035: adjourned; carried over to 2012 session
  • Iowa–HF 8, HF 95, SF 142: adjourned; carried over to 2012 session
  • KansasHB 2067: enacted
  • Maine–LD 199: adjourned; carried over to 2012 session 
  • MarylandHB 288 and 701: failed
  • Massachusetts–multiple bills: all pending in joint committee
  • MinnesotaSB 509:  vetoed
  • Mississippimultiple bills: all failed; however, voters approved a citizen initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot
  • NebraskaLB 239 and 605: adjourned; carried over to 2012 session
  • NevadaSB 373 failed
  • New Hampshire–SB 129: vetoed
  • New JerseyA 1725: pending in assembly
  • New MexicoHB 308, HB 577, SB 363: failed
  • New Yorkmultiple bills: carried over to 2012 session 
  • North CarolinaHB 351: vetoed 
  • PennsylvaniaHB 934: passed house; pending in senate
  • Rhode IslandSB 400/HB 5680: enacted
  • West VirginiaHB 3219: failed
  • WisconsinAB 7: enacted

Strengthening Existing Voter ID Laws 

At the beginning of 2011, 27 states had non-photo voter ID laws.  Fourteen of these 27 considered legislation this year to require photo ID at the polls.  So far, three states–South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas–have enacted strict photo ID requirements, and Alabama has enacted a new voter ID law that is somewhat less strict than the new laws in SC, TN and TX, yet stricter than the old law it replaces.  The new laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas can't take effect until they receive pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.  Governors in Missouri and Montana vetoed stricter voter ID laws in 2011.

  • AlabamaHB 19: enacted
  • Alaska–HB 162: adjourned; carried over to 2012
  • Arkansas–HB 1797: failed
  • Colorado–HB 1003: failed
  • ConnecticutHB 5231, SB 604 and 647: failed
  • Delaware–HB 199 and HB 200; adjourned; carried over to 2012
  • HawaiiHB 1359: adjourned; carried over to 2012
  • MissouriSB 3: vetoed and SJR 2: approved (must be approved by voters in November 2012 before it takes effect)
  • Montana–HB 152: vetoed
  • Ohio–HB 159: passed house; pending in senate
  • South Carolina–HB 3003: enacted
  • TennesseeSB 16: enacted
  • TexasSB 14: enacted
  • Virginiamultiple bills: failed

Recent Legislative Action

 Voter ID has been a hot topic in state legislatures over the past decade.  Since 2001, nearly 1,000 bills have been introduced in a total of 46 states.  Eighteen states have passed major legislation during this period, and those bills are summarized in the timeline below.

  • 2003:  New voter ID laws were passed in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota
  • 2005:  New voter ID laws were passed in Indiana, New Mexico and Washington; Georgia tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
  • 2006:  New voter ID law passed in Ohio; Georgia passed a law providing for the issuance of voter ID cards at no cost to registered voters who do not have a driver's license or state-issued ID card; Missouri tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
  • 2008:  New Mexico relaxed an existing voter ID law, and now allows a voter to satisfy the ID requirement by stating his/her name, address as registered, and year of birth
  • 2009:  New voter ID law passed in Utah
  • 2010:  New voter ID law passed in Idaho; Oklahoma voters approved a voter ID proposal placed on the ballot by the Legislature
  • 2011:  New voter ID laws passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.  Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas tightened existing voter ID laws to require photo ID (new laws in Texas and South Carolina are on hold pending USDOJ preclearance). Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed strict new photo ID laws in 2011.

Recent Litigation

Arizona:  On October 20, 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated an October 6, 2006 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that suspended Arizona’s requirements pending further litigation.  The ID law was in effect for Arizona's 2006 election, and remained in effect in 2008.

Georgia On October 27, 2006, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an injunction barring Georgia from enforcing its photo ID law.  The injunction was issued a week earlier by a U.S. District Court judge.  Georgia's voter ID requirement was reinstated by a federal judge in mid-2007.
Indiana:  Photo ID law was upheld by 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on January 4, 2007.  The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ruling on appeal in April 2008.
Michigan The Michigan Supreme Court ruled July 18, 2007 that a voter ID law originally passed in 1996 (but never implemented due to a ruling by the state's Attorney General) is constitutional and enforceable.
Missouri:  On October 16, 2006, the Missouri State Supreme Court struck down the state’s photo ID requirement.  ID is still required to vote, but the list of acceptable forms of ID is much broader and includes some forms without a photo.
Ohio:  On November 1, 2006, the secretary of state issued an order suspending the requirement that voters present photo ID at the polls for the November 2006 election.  The order did not apply to future elections, and voter ID requirements were in effect for 2008.