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Are Voter ID Laws Here to Stay?

The elections saw a furor over voter ID laws. So what’s next for the laws?

The elections saw a furor over voter ID laws. So what's next for the laws? (Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images)

Voter ID laws were one of the most contentious issues of the past election season. (Here is everything you need to know about the laws.) Proponents insisted IDs should be required at polling places in order to thwart fraud. But there has been little evidence of such fraud and Democrats argued that the laws were meant to suppress voters.

The impact of the laws on this past election isn't clear. But one thing is clear: There are still pushes for the laws in many states.

So what happens next?

We've rounded up the places that could see voter ID in future elections, the status of laws still pending and what effect, if any, this year's pushback against voter ID will have going forward.

Just to refresh, which states actually have photo ID laws?

Four states require voters to present a valid form of photo identification in order to cast a regular, not provisional, ballot: Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, and Tennessee. The latter two phased in the law just this year; Indiana has had it since 2006 and Georgia, 2008.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania, battleground for one of the fieriest disputes over the issue this year, required poll workers to request ID from voters – though voters had no obligation to present one.

And New Hampshire permitted voters without photo ID to still cast a regular ballot, as long as they signed a form affirming they were who they said they were.

So, there weren't actually many places in the country where photo IDs were required to vote?

Correct. As we've laid out before, due largely to court rulings and robust opposition from the Justice Department, newly passed voter ID laws didn't play nearly as big a role in the election this year as they otherwise might have. (In Minnesota, a ballot measure proposing voter ID was defeated after failing to get majority support.)

Could that change next year?

Yes. South Carolina and Pennsylvania have both passed voter ID laws. Judges suspended them for the past election, ruling there was too little time to implement the new law without the risk of disenfranchising voters. But the laws will be in effect next time around.

Pennsylvania's voter ID law is set to take effect in time for the state's May 2013 local primaries.

In other states, it isn't so clear.

After its voter ID law was rejected by federal judges in August, Texas pledged to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. That appeal may have to wait, though, until the Court rules on the constitutional merits of a special provision of the Voting Rights Act next June.

Voter ID laws in Mississippi and Alabama are also on hold, awaiting federal review.

Where else have lawmakers expressed interest in voter ID laws?

In lots of states. A Montana state representative has proposed a bill that would restrict valid voter ID to Montana driver's licenses, state ID cards for non-drivers and tribal ID cards. (Not even passports would qualify.)

Wisconsin's incoming state assembly leader and Missouri Republicans want to push through voter ID laws via constitutional amendment. Iowa's secretary of state, who's been aggressive about targeting voter fraud, is also still pushing for an ID law.

In North Carolina, the newly elected Republican governor has voiced support for a voter ID law to “protect the integrity of the voting system.”

“I don't want Chicago politics to come to North Carolina,” incoming Gov. Pat McCrory told the Charlotte Observer shortly before the election.

In Nevada, Democratic Secretary of State Ross Miller doesn't want to actually require voters to bring photo identification to the polls, but proposes connecting the state's voter rolls with photos from the state Department of Motor Vehicles so a poll worker can compare a voter name with an image.

Now that the election is over, how many instances of voter fraud have we actually seen?

There have been a handful of reports, most of which have arisen from a basic misunderstanding or a deliberate attempt to commit an infraction to prove a point.

Is there any evidence that voter ID laws suppress minority turnout as critics charge?

It's still not clear.

"We don't know any more than we did before," said Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at MIT who specializes in elections. "It's too early to put the data together even. Any change in requirements relating to voter registration and access typically has a change by one or two percentage points. When you're talking about that size, it's very hard to tease out the data."

Reuters reports that in states that have had the law on the books for a few years – Indiana and Georgia – turnout and registration actually increased after the laws took effect. (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution also notes that turnout among black and Hispanic voters in Georgia increased from 2006 to 2010.)

But there are important variables to consider: 2008 was also a historic presidential election that drove up voter turnout around the country.

Furthermore, Georgia, unlike other strict photo ID law states, issues a free photo ID for those who don't have one. (Reuters reports that about 28,648 such voter cards were distributed since 2006.)

Justin Levitt, associate professor of law at Loyola Law School, said it will still take several more election cycles before the impact of voter ID laws can be discerned, just "to sort the turnout effect of ID laws from all of the other factors" – like campaign spending, the weather, and choice of candidates.

"There's very little that we can learn about the effect from the election results or turnout figures this cycle, because the strictest laws weren't generally in effect," he told ProPublica.

Can we expect to see another wave of legislation over voter ID laws?

Perhaps, but it's too early to tell.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 30 states introduced some form of voter ID legislation in both 2011 and 2012.

"What we don't know is if from 2013 to 2014, we're going to see that same phenomenon at that same level," said Ned Foley, a professor of election law at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Election Day concerns that affect larger swathes of voters may eventually eclipse the push for such laws.

"Other issues of election administration are likely to reemerge as becoming more critical, such as long lines, or voting machines that are about to fail," said MIT's Stewart. Those are issues "felt by a great number of voters, regardless of race or party."

Still, voter ID laws are going to be an ongoing issue.

"In the short term, these ID bills might be submerged," said Stewart. "But I don't think they're going to go away forever."

Elaine Schmottlach

Dec. 13, 2012, 5:40 p.m.

In NH, the Dems have taken back the House, so there are several state reps who plan to introduce legislation to either repeal or amend our new photo ID law.  I’m not sure how this will turn out, since our state Senate still has a Repub. majority.  However, the law is being phased in, and after Sept.1, 2013, it requires that the Sec’y of State provide a camera and printer to every polling station in the state, just to take pictures of voters who refuse to show ID and who opt instead to sign a form swearing they are who they say they are.  There’s a fiscal impact to this notion, and there’s a good chance the law will be amended to eliminate this element.

As the article alludes, the only real case of fraud we know of in the last election were the two Republicans who were taken into police custody during for allegedly attempting to test how easy it would be to commit voter fraud.

Yes Voter ID should be required. The debate that took place, in my opinion, was comical. Going forward we will find the U.S. with more and ever more non-citizens who may be here legally and in some cases still illegally. As an American citizen I do not want our elections to be skewed by these folks. Another issue is that most people have a form of ID. Want to fly, ID required. Want to drive, ID required. Want to withdraw funds at your local bank, ID required. Want to cash a check, ID required. Want hospital care, most cases ID required and the list goes on.

Voter ID is just one issue and I don’t think the studies performed thus far have been sufficient to answer the fraud question.

Gerrymandering by both Democrats and Republicans is a huge problem.

Lack of sufficient funds directed towards voting systems.

I believe, sorry if I am wrong, Andrew Young former mayor of Atlanta said and I am paraphrasing “every one should have an ID and if they don’t then get one”. He made this statement while the ludicrous controversy was going on.

Now there are clearly ways to handle making sure there is no one eligible to vote is kept from voting.

To pgillenw:

But, we find fewer non-citizens today in our country than we did 5 years ago?  As numbers have proven, no election ever has been “skewed by these folks.”  Wonder why?  Maybe because undocumented aliens will go to great lengths NOT to call attention to themselves, and would never risk compromising their situation trying to vote.  As to “most people” having ID based on the fact that a large portion of the population flies, drives, or bank, there is a good 10% of the population that does none of these things. Moreover, the opportunity to vote is not about “most people” it’s about ALL people having the right to vote if they choose.

I am not saying some form of verifying voter eligibility is bad per se; however, many of the forms that were proposed or passed were clearly designed to keep minorities away from the poles. 

I wondered during the election how one party, Republicans, could take pride in a victorious outcome of an election when it would have at least been partly predicated on EXCLUDING citizens from voting.  Quite a strategy, that.  Good thing they ended up losing partly predicated on those who might have been disenfranchised getting their dander up and voting against that party.  Wonder if Republicans will ever learn the lesson that inclusion is always superior to exclusion.

The need for a US National Identity Card has finally been acknowledged by conservatives.

Conservatives want a “Voter ID” card—or so they claim. Yet it makes no rational sense to have fifty (or more) *different systems* when a single US National Identity Card could be produced and issued at minimal cost. The card would be issued at no cost to all citizens without them having to ask for the card to be issued (although each person would have their picture taken and then stored on the database). Because the US National Identity card was provided at no cost, it is constitutional (and thus legal) to require *each* voter to show that ID when the person votes in an election. If they lose their ID card, it is their responsibility to get a replacement (free).

With 50+ state-level ID systems, every time someone moves, they need to get yet another ID card—which is pretty stupid considering how mobile US society has become. That is a failed system from the start because the state with the weakest design would allow people to get into the system when they should be denied access (i.e. such as issuing illegal aliens the documents needed to legally be/stay/live in the US—which would be accepted by ICE and the federal govt).

How to pay for the system.

Retailers and credit card companies incur billions in losses every year due to identity theft and fraud. Having a “known valid” identity card would save them a lot of money due to reduced losses, so the costs of the system are easily recovered just through the retail losses not incurred. Retailers and credit card companies and banks could easily justify bearing most or all of the cost of the entire system due to those savings. A new US National Identity Card is needed every 8-10 years because the cards will be used a lot (they will eventually crack/peel/split/wear out) and people do change in appearance as they age. Easy and secure voting is just one use of the card. It could replace a large number of other identity cards currently issued (= more cash savings). So it would save business, state, and local govt money as well.

Vote conveniently with a secure US National Identity Card.

With electronic voting, voters could vote anywhere voting was allowed—because their ID card tells the system “who is voting”—and the ballot presented only contains the races in which the voter is allowed to vote (which is based on their residence—which is known to the system). Thus, the time and cost of setting up polling places is reduced as well. It is neither hard nor expensive to use a tablet to vote—and tablets are available everywhere very inexpensively. So, there could never be a shortage of voting machines again. A tablet could display pictures and other info regarding the candidates if the voter wanted that info.

Initial setup, legality, and acceptance.

How the overall system would be set up and work is very simple. First time, create the identify card. Put the person’s picture on the card *and* in a national photo ID database. This is the same system used for a driver’s license, passport, and many other identification systems—so it is universally accepted and legal in the US. Pictures in the database can be scanned for duplicates to catch attempted fraud (and to know which people are identical twins/triplets/etc). When the card is used, the picture from the database is securely sent to that location to be verified. If it matches the person, bingo—valid ID (to vote or to buy something). If it does not match, potential fraud has been uncovered and the problem (with the system, card, or person) can be identified and resolved immediately.

The talk of the core: Should stay until New-generation’s-politic’s, at least e-voting for all is ensured by new set of men in the territorial Supreme Courts!

jERRY, YOU KNOW PERFECTLY WELL THAT THE rEPUBLICANS AND CONSERVATIVES WOULDN’T GO FOR A NATIONAL I. D. CARD.  IT WOULD BE COMMUNISM AND SOCIALISM ALL ROLLED INTO ONE FOR THEM AND THEY WOULD SEE A NATIONAL I.D. CARD AS AN ATTEMPT BY THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO IDENTIFY AND ROUND UP DISSENTERS OF THE PRESIDENT.  OH, I FULLY AGREE WITH YOUR IDEA FOR A NATIONALI. D. CARD AND HOW IT COULD BE USED BUT THERE ARE TOO MANY WHACKO’S   OUT THERE TO EVER PASS THE IDEA, ATLEAST UNTIL PRESIDENT OBAMA LEAVES OFFICE.  THEN, WHEN A REPUBLICAN PROPOSES THE IDEA, THEY WILL SUDDENLY BE SUPPORTIVE OF THE IDEA, ESPECIALLY IF IT LOOKS LIKE IT WOULD RESTRICT MINORITY VOTING IN ANY WAY.  tHESE PEOPLE LOOK FOR GHOSTS HIDIN UNDER EVERY BED AND ROCK SO BE VERY, VERY CAREFUL AROUND THEM.

Michigan requires voters to present a valid form of photo identification in order to cast a regular, not provisional, ballot. This has been in place for several years. Why is Michigan never mentioned in these articles?

It amazes me that everybody follows the bouncing ball, on this topic.  The people at the top insist that all voting irregularities happen at OUR level—either grandmothers are being barred from voting or Mexicans are sneaking across the border to vote, and the hundred or so votes are destroying our democracy.

But the voting machines that are easily hacked and protected from investigation?  Oh, those are fine.  Don’t question them.

Also, don’t question why politicians are willing to spend a billion dollars to get into office, and who really selects the candidates up for nomination.

Remember, we’re the corrupt ones and we need to be watched closely…

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues in the 2012 election you won't read about elsewhere.

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