The Latest News on Voter ID Laws

June 13, 2012

Since 2010, 10 states passed voter ID laws (Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin). Each law is different. They have varying enactment dates, some are waiting for preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and others are in litigation. Brennan Center’s website has the content of all the new voter ID laws here.

With the 2012 election just a few months away, organizers and voters are working in earnest to support ballot issues, community concerns, and political campaigns. This year there is a great deal of chaos and confusion regarding what is happening with what laws and what it will mean for the November 2012 election.

Here’s what we know now:

Alabama

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    None

Alabama passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session but it will not be in effect until the 2014 general election. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot in-person.

Kansas

Status:         In effect
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    None

Kansas’ voter ID law is currently in effect. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot in-person. To date, no lawsuits in either state or federal court have been filed to oppose implementation of Kansas’ voter ID law.

Mississippi

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Covered jurisdiction, application for preclearance before the Department of Justice is pending
Litigation:    None

Voters in Mississippi approved a ballot measure in November 2011 to amend the state’s constitution to require government-issued photo ID at the polls. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot in-person. Mississippi is a covered jurisdiction and submitted its law for preclearance to the Department of Justice in February 2012. In March 2012, the Department notified Mississippi that it would not consider its application for preclearance until it passed the required legislation necessary to enact the law, which the legislature then passed in May. Its preclearance application is still pending before the Department of Justice. It is not clear that Mississippi will obtain preclearance in time for the law to be fairly and properly enacted before the November 2012 election.

Pennsylvania

Status:         In effect
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    In litigation under Pennsylvania state law

Pennsylvania passed its voter ID law during its 2012 legislative session and it is currently in effect. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot in-person. The law is currently being challenged in state court; a trial date is set for July 25, 2012.  

Rhode Island

Status:         In effect
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    None

Rhode Island passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session. For the November 2012 election, voters can use a non-photo ID. Starting in November 2014, voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. It is important to note that Rhode Island’s law permits voters without the statutorily required ID to cast a provisional ballot that will be counted provided the signature on the provisional ballot envelope matches the voter’s signature in the poll book. To date, no lawsuits in either state or federal court have been filed to oppose implementation of Rhode Island’s voter ID law. 

South Carolina

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Covered jurisdiction, preclearance denied by Department of Justice
Litigation:    Currently in litigation in the District Court of Washington, D.C. seeking preclearance

South Carolina passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot. South Carolina is a covered jurisdiction and therefore submitted its law for preclearance to the Department of Justice in June 2011. After multiple requests for additional information, the Department ultimately objected to the preclearance of South Carolina’s voter ID law in December 2012. In response, South Carolina brought a lawsuit in federal court seeking preclearance. The trial in the South Carolina case is set for July 30, 2012.

Texas

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Covered jurisdiction, preclearance denied by Department of Justice
Litigation:    Currently in litigation in the District Court of Washington, D.C. seeking preclearance

Texas passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot. Texas is a covered jurisdiction and therefore submitted its law for preclearance to the Department of Justice. While its application for preclearance was pending before the Department, Texas brought suit in federal district court seeking preclearance. During the pendency of the current lawsuit, the Department denied preclearance to Texas for its voter ID law. Trial in the Texas case is set for July 9, 2012.

Tennessee

Status:         In effect
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    None

Tennessee passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot. To date, no lawsuits in either state or federal court have been filed to oppose implementation of Tennessee’s voter ID law. 

Virginia

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Covered jurisdiction, to date no submission for preclearance to Department of Justice or to federal district court
Litigation:    None

Virginia passed its voter ID law during its 2012 legislative session. The law expanded the list of acceptable IDs. Most notably, however, Virginia’s law eliminates the ability of a voter to sign an affidavit to attest to their identity in lieu of providing the statutorily required ID. Federal law requires that Virginia’s law be precleared before it can go into effect. Once submitted, the Department of Justice has 60 days to consider the application or the law is automatically precleared.

Wisconsin

Status:         Not in effect
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    There are four separate lawsuits pending in Wisconsin, both federal and state

Wisconsin passed its voter ID law during its 2011 legislative session. It is a strict voter ID law, requiring government-issued photo ID at the polls for a voter to cast a non-provisional ballot. The law has been temporarily and permanently enjoined by two separate trial courts based on two separate state court actions. There are two additional federal court cases pending in Wisconsin federal court. The state court decision finding the law unconstitutional is on appeal and the trial court that issued the temporary injunction has yet to issue its findings of fact and conclusions of law. It is not known whether the Wisconsin law will be successfully appealed in time for the law to go into effect in November 2012.

Other states:

Minnesota

Status:         Ballot measure pending for November 2012 general election
Section 5:     Not a covered jurisdiction
Litigation:    The proposed language of Minnesota’s ballot measure is currently being litigated in state court

Minnesota passed its ballot measure for the November ballot during its 2012 legislative session. Under Minnesota law, a majority vote in both legislative houses can send a constitutional amendment to the ballot. The Governor’s signature is not required. Nonetheless, Minnesota’s Governor issued a symbolic veto of the measure. The legislature submitted ballot language to the Secretary of State to place the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot. Plaintiffs brought suit claiming the language of the ballot measure is unclear and should not be permitted to appear on the ballot in November. That case is pending.

With all these laws in effect or tied up in court, it is crucial that voters are informed about what they need to vote this fall. Check back on the Brennan Center’s Election 2012 page for updates in the coming months.