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ID The Vote

American Voters

Identifying those who rightfully participate in our democracy

Two-thirds of U.S. states either request or require voters to present some form of identification in order to vote. Half of those states only accept photo IDs, while some states accept another type of documentation, including birth certificates, Social Security cards, or bank statements. Depending on state regulations, if you don’t have a required form of ID to vote, you may sign a form affirming your identity, complete a provisional ballot, or you may be required to return to the voting booth with proper identification. Most states make exceptions to voter ID requirements. First time voters who have not registered in person and have not previously provided proof of ID are required by federal law to show some form of identification in order to cast a ballot.

Ensuring electoral integrity is essential for a functioning democracy. Accordingly, requiring voters to authenticate their identity can prevent and deter:

  • Impersonation fraud at the polls;
  • Voting under fictitious voter registrations;
  • Double voting by individuals registered in more than one state or locality; and
  • Voting by illegal aliens, or even legal aliens who are still not entitled to vote since state and federal elections are restricted to U.S. citizens. 

In 2012, Pennsylvania State Representative Daryl Metcalf spoke of his support for ID laws, saying that his state had a history of corruption in the electoral process and that “it’s important to ensure that this very commonsense measure is in place. Whether you board a plane or cash a check, get a library card, you have to prove that you are who you claim to be. It’s just common sense." In response to her sponsorship of a Michigan voter ID law that passed the House, former GOP state Representative Lisa Posthumous Lyons said, “presenting your ID is the most important way to protect everyone’s vote, by proving you are who you say you are. The people deserve to know that.”

To this end, many states that require IDs issue free photo identification cards that can be used for voting, including Wisconsin. This fee waiver, however, may not compensate applicants for the additional document fees, travel fees, wait times, and potential legal fees that may be necessary to apply

A recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which surveyed registered voters of two counties who did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, found that "11.2% of nonvoting registrants in Dane and Milwaukee counties were 'deterred' in some way from voting by the voter ID law." The survey also found that “6% of nonvoters (approximately 10,000 registrants) either lack a qualifying ID or list voter ID as their primary reason for not voting in 2016,” although that percentage number could be higher.

Americans born in Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico cannot have their votes counted in presidential elections unless they move to the mainland. The same is true for American Samoans, although they must first apply for citizenship, while residents of Washington D.C. have never been permitted full voting rights in Congress.