When Americans show up to the voting polls, more than likely, they will be asked to present identification. As simple as this request sounds, it isn’t always possible. There are a myriad of reasons why a legal registered voter might show up to the polls without a standard government-issued photo ID. Maybe the ID was left at home or maybe the voter did not have the financial resources to get one—after all, those things can cost $30 to $35 bucks. Regardless, in most cases, some form of ID is required to have your vote counted.
Presenting identification before casting a ballot might seem like a traditional rule, but it’s actually relatively new. Since the early 2000s states have been enforcing stricter voter identification requirements with each local and national election. When Georgia amended it’s 1997 voting rule, which allowed over 17 forms of ID (H.B. 244 Section 59), to a much shorter list that required picture identification, the state consequently narrowed its voting pool. Naturally voting rights activists were concerned.
Since these amendments have taken place, advocates have been working hard to ensure the newer laws don’t further disenfranchise the many Americans who lack easy access to standard picture IDs. Consider rural America, for instance. About 60 million Americans live in sparsely populated areas with no urban centers in close proximity, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For many of these residents, the trip to an ID office could be time consuming and financially draining—nearly impossible. But rural residents aren’t the only voters, who might struggle to obtain standard identification; senior citizens, people living with low-income, those experiencing homelessness, and those with physical disabilities are all at risk of having their votes disregarded because of issues with the ever evolving voter ID rules.
In order to combat possible identification barriers, state lawmakers have rolled out a series of additional voter ID legislation. The amendments range from allowing voters to use anything from a sworn affidavit to a food stamps card to prove that they are who they say they are. In many cases, actively registered voters who have casted ballots in the past don’t even have to show ID when voting. Additionally, some states allow older senior citizens to cast ballots with expired IDs and younger voters have been allowed to use school IDs.
When it comes to voting, the ID possibilities are many. Aside from the standard driver’s license, passport, state identification card, or government-issued ID, here’s a state-by-state rundown on other acceptable forms of identification to carry with you to the polls.
A few states actually allow voters to use an expired driver’s license or state identification card. The approved expiration time length varies from region to region, and some states require voters to be a certain age. However, if you’ve forgotten to renew your license or don’t have a current ID, this could be a good option. Double check with your voting office to verify whether or not you can use your expired ID to cast your ballot, if you live in any of the states below.
- Alabama (60 days), Georgia, Indiana (1 year), Kansas (if voter is 65+), Minnesota, New Hampshire (5 years, but if voter is 65+ expiration date doesn’t matter), Texas (if voter is 70+), Virginia.
The following states allow voters to use photo IDs issued by private or public colleges and universities located within their territory. Some will even accept high school IDs. Before relying on your student ID as an acceptable form of voter identification, it’s important to check your state’s specific guidelines. Some states require school IDs to showcase the voter’s signature, while other states expect the ID to have an expiration as well.
- Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida (must have signature), Georgia, Idaho (high school too), Illinois, Indiana (must be public with expiration date), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan (high school too), Minnesota (high school too), Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island (from any college in U.S.), South Dakota, Utah, Virginia (from any college in U.S.), Washington, West Virginia , Wisconsin (must have signature).
In an effort to make voting more accessible some states offer free voter photo IDs. These aren’t the flimsy registration cards that voters receive in the mail after registering to vote (although those cards can be useful in some cases). Voter photo IDs are issued by various state offices including: a county’s registrar office, the secretary of state office, and the Department of Motor Vehicles office free of charge. The IDs include all of the necessary information to prove a voter’s identity, but can be difficult to obtain if the voter does not already have proper identification documents like a birth certificate or social security card. Still, it’s another great alternative for those who can’t afford a standard ID. Reach out to your state to see whether or not they offer this useful voting item.
- Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin.
If you live in a small town where everybody knows your name, there’s a good chance you can vote without a photo ID. Of course, your state would have to allow sworn affidavits as a valid form of identification. The following states authorize voters to cast a ballot, if they sign a legal document stating that they are who they claim to be. In some cases, the voter needs two election officials to positively identify them. In other situations, the voter has to take a photo and attach it to the affidavit. The rules vary, but voters can typically cast their ballots normally, except in the case of Massachusetts.
Voting IDs are not required in the New England state, but a voter must present one if asked. Should the voter not have any form of acceptable ID, they’ll have to vote on a challenged ballot using a sworn affidavit. Challenged ballots are not counted until identification is confirmed without a doubt.
- Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts (challenged ballot), Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Virginia, West Virginia.
Hunters, fishers, and gun owners can use their license to cast a ballot, in various states. These identification cards, oftentimes have the carrier’s photo, name, signature, and address. All of these items are necessary when verifying a voter’s identity. Additionally, voters in some of these states can use a concealed weapons permit to vote at the polls.
- Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia.
Most states highlight a lengthy list of documents that can be used to prove both identity and residency. Those documents include a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government issued document, mail, debit or credit card, Medicare or Medicaid card, food stamps card and more. Sometimes poll workers might ask for multiple documents or a combination of identification forms. It’s important to check which documents are acceptable in your state and grab multiple documents from this list, if you're unable to obtain a photo ID before voting.
- Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado (Medicare or Medicaid card), Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming.
According to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the U.S. has 574 federally recognized Indian nations. These nations have a long cumbersome history with the American government that has resulted in an uphill battle from day one. Despite being the original inhabitants of the land, Indigenous Americans have long been barred from contributing to American policies that affect their ability to self-govern. Take the 2016 Dakota Pipeline controversy, for example. When the Standing Rock Sioux tribe opposed the construction of a U.S. oil pipeline that would run under their primary water source, they were relatively ignored.
Though Native Americans were granted American citizenship in 1924, they did not obtain full national voting rights until 1962. Meanwhile, voting advocates from the NCAI have worked tirelessly to highlight regions where the often ignored Native votes can influence elections. In an effort to make voting more inclusive, the following states recognize tribal government IDs.
- Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin.
Interestingly, if you’ve voted in these states, in the past, you don’t have to show your photo ID. But you might need ID to enter the polling location (case-by-case).
- California, D.C. , Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts (can ask anyways), Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming
Even with several identification options available, poll workers might still enforce strict ID rules. However, it’s important to know your voting rights and make sure your vote is counted on a regular ballot—especially when using an alternative form of identification. Several voting organizations, like Vote Riders, help Americans obtain proper voting ID. Before going to the polls, research your state’s policies and confirm that you have everything necessary to pull up and vote.
Don’t forget that you can do your part by visiting Complex’s Pull Up & Vote site—where you can double-check your registration, register to vote if you haven’t, and request a mail-in ballot.