Editor’s Note: The 2018 midterm elections are quickly approaching. These non-presidential elections historically give voters a chance to change the country’s course. They will decide whether or not Republicans keep a majority in Congress, important governor’s races and more.
"A Voter’s Guide to the 2018 Election," written by Steven Rosenfeld, senior writing fellow of Voting Booth, is intended to help new voters, infrequent voters and veteran voters have a better idea of what they must do to be able to vote and have their vote counted. The following is an updated excerpt from the guide, available in full here.
Clearing the ID hurdle
Some states require voters to present specific forms of government-issued ID to get a ballot. Other states allow you to sign your name as a legal oath. While the voter ID requirement has discouraged some people from voting in the past, it is not hard to comply in most cases. Let’s go through this.
So you’ve registered. You’ve figured out when and where you want to vote — early or on Election Day. You’ve given yourself enough time to do it. What else do you need to do?
In some states, you have to present the proper form of government-issued photo ID to get a regular ballot. Or if you are a first-time voter using a mail-in ballot, you may have to include additional documentation before your vote will be counted.
For years, civil rights groups and lawyers fighting for a more inclusive electorate have called this additional requirement a form of voter suppression. They have quoted many Republican officials saying that it will peel off several points of voter turnout among Democrats who often lack this ID — youths, new voters and poor people. Non-partisan congressional investigators have found that assertion largely is correct: Stricter voter ID requirements can undercut turnout by 2 to 3 percent in the fall. But this gambit is not new. The legal fights over voter ID have been going on since 2006. In 2018, this hurdle — and how to clear it — is well known.
If you live in a red-run state, you are likely to have stricter requirements. First check what forms of ID are accepted (see this chart). In blue states like California, you don’t have to show any ID, because if you sign in to get a ballot and you’re lying about your identity, you have just signed a criminal confession. Still, in 13 mostly red-run states, there are stricter ID laws than in 2010. (The strictest states are Georgia, Virginia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. They accept limited forms of government-issued photo IDs.)
Do you have the voter ID that is required in your state? If you cannot get time off from work to get that ID, or the paperwork costs associated with doing so are prohibitive, there are groups like VoteRiders and SpreadTheVote to help you get it done — or tell you what household bills you can bring to a polling place that will be accepted as ID if you’re a registered voter. In general, stricter voter ID laws affect nonwhites much more than whites, and confusion surrounding ID has led people to skip voting.
People who recently moved need to pay attention if they live in a few states — especially Arizona and Missouri. One 2018 trend concerns people who moved, got a new driver’s license and assumed that their voter registration would be automatically updated (with their new address). Some states do that, but others don’t (see more on Arizona and Missouri below). If you moved and have not updated your registration information in the strictest states, you still may be able to cast a provisional ballot. But if you moved to a new county and haven’t re-registered, you are likely to be informed that you can re-register — but for the next election. This varies state by state.
What follows are brief summaries of states with looming voter ID or voter identification issues this fall.
According to state election officials, Arizona’s motor vehicle agency did not forward updated addresses for 384,000 people who recently moved. That figure includes 63,000 people who moved to another county in the state, meaning if they didn’t re-register that they cannot vote this fall. The rest have to pay attention and go through some hoops.
First, because 80 percent of the state votes by mail, Arizonans who moved within the same county still have a narrow window — through Friday, Oct. 26 — to contact their county election office and get their ballot mailed to the right address. They can alsocall the Arizona Secretary of State at 1-877-THE VOTE (843-8683).
“Also, voters who have moved within the same county and miss the deadline to update their address may still vote at the precinct corresponding to their new address, but they will be required to vote by provisional ballot,” the ACLU of Arizona said. “Voters can find the correct precinct for their new address online (link here) or by calling the non-partisan Election Protection hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).”
Beyond this hurdle for movers, Arizona’s voter ID requirements are not too onerous.
Georgia, with some of the most rigorous voting laws in the country, has one of the nation’s closest and most-watched governor’s races. It also has become the national media’s showcase for voter suppression in 2018, where technicalities block voters.
As of this week, there were five federal lawsuits challenging aspects of the state’s voter identification protocols for legal voters to obtain a regular ballot. The highest-profile litigation concerns information from 53,000 people who filled out paper registration forms (not online or automatically registering when getting a driver’s license) that does not exactly match the state’s databases of residents. The issue could be as simple as a mere typo. Those “pending voters” still can vote and cast a ballot that counts, however, if they bring proper identifying information to the polls. Here are the accepted IDs.
Another part of this litigation concerns a related group of 3,300 Georgians who are new citizens, but — like the snafu in Arizona — initially got their state driver’s licenses when they had immigration visas. Thus, the state has not updated their citizenship status in its data used to verify voter registration forms. Those figures come from the University of Florida’s Michael McDonald, a nationally known voter turnout expert and witness in that litigation. Those new citizens face additional hurdles to vote, said Derrick Robinson, communications director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“They must produce documentary proof of citizenship to a deputy registrar, not an ordinary poll worker, in order to cast a regular ballot on Election Day,” Robinson explained. “If there is no deputy registrar in the poll, the voter will have to leave the poll, travel to the registrar’s office or other location, have the deputy registrar review their proof of citizenship, and then return to the poll to cast a regular ballot. Alternatively, they will have to cast a provisional ballot that will not count unless the individual returns to the registrar’s office with documentary proof of citizenship by the Friday following the election.”
The other voter identification issues in federal court in Georgia include voters apparently incorrectly signing absentee ballot envelopes (where printed instructions are confusing) or having a signature on those mail-in ballots that does not match their voter registration forms.
Georgia accepts six forms of government-issued photo ID. Any new voter must be aware of this list and be patient when it comes to checking in at their polls to vote. They should check with their county registrar to be sure they are listed as registered voters and know exactly where to vote. Georgia leaves no room for simple errors.
Like Arizona and Georgia, the state of Missouri has bottlenecks in its process of updating their statewide voter database. In this state, however, a federal court just ordered the motor vehicle agency to send 200,000 updated addresses to election officials—and in another federal court ruling, parts of the state’s new strict voter ID law were overturned. In both cases, people who moved and/or got new driver’s licenses, as well as first-time voters, should pay attention, because late-breaking court rulings aren’t always implemented smoothly by poll workers. Here are the forms of ID accepted by the state.
Texas is another state where Republican officeholders have been striving to impose stricter voter ID requirements for years. Since 2013, they have passed bills toughening standards, had federal courts overturn those laws, passed new legislation making slight changes, and been back in court. That pattern is still true for the November election.
The latest rulings require Texans “to present limited types of photo identification in order to vote, but permits voters who do not possess those types of ID to submit non-photo ID and to sign a declaration indicating why they were unable to obtain the requisite photo ID,” according to the Brennan Center at NYU Law School, which has been suing the state for years. This link from TexasTribune.org has the latest voter ID details.
With a very close U.S. Senate race, new voters in Texas should pay close attention. As a prominent election law blog noted, the state is not advertising its options to get required IDs in the hands of voters. “Texas promised educational efforts as part of the lawsuit involving voter ID,” noted Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen.
This is the only state that does not have a voter registration requirement. But its red-run legislature recently passed a strict voter ID law that requires a street address, which will be a barrier for approximately 18,000 residents — many of whom live on Native American reservations. The state has one of the closest U.S. Senate races.
In response to a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the ID law, state election officials have told tribal leaders that people interested in voting can take a few steps to do so. The New York Times noted, “In a letter to tribal leaders, the secretary of state’s office wrote that any voter without a residential address could contact their county’s 911 coordinator, describe the location of their home and, quickly and at no cost, be assigned an address that the coordinator could confirm in an official letter. The voter could then either use that letter to obtain new identification or present it at the polls alongside an ID card that would not have been sufficient on its own.”
Ironically, Republicans in the state have said this controversy may end up prompting more Democrats to vote, as a consequence of being targeted.
Arkansas is another red-run state, like Texas, where the fight over stricter voter ID has bounced back and forth between the legislature and courts. The state’s Supreme Court just upheld an ID law that was similar to what was struck down four years ago. As the Associated Press reported, the law “requires voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.”
But “unlike the measure struck down in 2014, the law approved last year allows voters to cast provisional ballots without a photo ID if they sign a sworn statement confirming their identities,” the Associated Press said. Arkansas requires a photo ID issued by the state, a state educational institution or the federal government.
As early voting begins, people planning to vote should be mindful that there may be last-minute legal decisions that could lead to some confusion at the polls. An example this week comes from New Hampshire, where a state court blocked a GOP-sponsored requirement intended to undermine college and university student voters. Students no longer have to satisfy unduly complex residency requirements to vote.
However, as is always the case in all late-breaking election rulings, there is a chance that precinct officials or volunteers may not fully understand the latest developments. That means new voters should double-check what is required locally.
In other states, like Kansas, voters in some localities need to be mindful of more deliberate institutional barriers. For example, in Dodge City, where Latinos make up 60 percent of its population of 27,000 residents, the only polling place is a mile outside the city limits and not near public transportation. In that state, like Georgia, the Republican candidate for governor is the state’s top election official in a very tight race.
To read the complete text of "A Voter’s Guide to the 2018 Election," click here to view online, or click here to view/download the full guide as a pdf.