Voter Photo ID and Privacy

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In the US, voting civil rights advocates are locked in a struggle with federal, state and local authorities over more restrictive voter identification and authentication requirements. This clash over poll place practices and voter ID requirements was initially triggered by the passage of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which increased federal election requirements for first-time voters who register to vote by mail. These requirements include that voters provide a form of identification prior to voting in person for the first time. According to the Act, acceptable forms of identification could include a photo ID, “utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document that shows the name and address of the voter.”

While new ID requirements might appear minor to most voters, they threaten both privacy for all US voters and civil rights for marginalized voter populations. Similarly, while the states raise barriers to in-person voter participation through the new requirements, they leave the gate wide open to actual voter fraud threats posed by absentee voting.

EPIC has a long history of working on voter privacy issues, which this government issued photo ID requirement strongly affects. In a arch 2007 statement to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary, EPIC cautioned against new photo identification and proof of citizenship requirements for federal elections. Absent evidence of an actual problem, EPIC warned that the requirements could discourage legal voters. EPIC noted that Congress has already provided for provisional ballots for instances when there are doubts about the status of voters seeking to cast ballots in public elections.

In 1992, EPIC filed a voter registration privacy case in Greidinger over the state of Virginia's practice of collecting Social Security Numbers and making them publicly available. In that case EPIC prevailed by the decision of the court to prohibit the state of Virginia from requiring citizens who wish to register to provide a Social Security Number.

In 2007, EPIC filed a brief in the Crawford v. Marion County, strict voter government issued ID case to protect voting privacy rights of Indiana voters. Challenging the position of the state that the government issued photo ID requirement would add security to state elections. Further, the state of Indiana's poll worker training material on photo ID's used by the state to educate poll workers on acceptable and unacceptable photo IDs was questionable.

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Status of US Voter ID Laws 2012

As of early 2012, 19 US states (CA, IL, IA, ME, MD, MA, MN, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OR, PA, VT, WV, WY) and the District of Columbia have no voter ID laws.

Sixteen states (AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, DE, KY, MO, MT, ND, OH, OK, UT, VA, WA) require one of several forms of voter identification, including utility bills or bank statements.

Voters in seven states (AL, FL, HI, ID, LA, MI, RI (note: starting in 2014 RI will only accept government issued photo IDs), and SD) are requested to show a photo ID, but if they do not hold one they have several other options, including providing other forms of personal information or signing an affidavit of their identities, or another voter with a photo ID can attest to the identity of a voter without a photo ID.

Eight US states have so-called "strict voter photo ID laws,"[1] which restrict voting rights to those who hold a government-issued photo identification document. In early 2011 only two states, Georgia and Indiana, had enacted "strict voter ID” laws. During 2011, Kansas and Wisconsin, which previously had no voter photo ID laws, enacted them. South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas made changes to existing non-photo ID voting laws to restrict voting to only those with a government issued photo identification document. Mississippi citizens voted in favor of a ballot initiative to create a strict voter photo ID requirement, which will need legislative approval prior to going into effect.

In December 2011 the US Department of Justice rejected South Carolina’s request for approval of its new voter ID law. Under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, South Carolina must receive Department of Justice approval when making changes to poll place practices.

In 2012, new voter ID laws are introduced in Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, and West Virginia. There are still bills pending that would strengthen existing voter ID laws in the states legislatures for Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

History of US Voter Identification

Voting in the US was initially limited to white male landholders, but this civil right was gradually extended to include non-landholders, persons of color, women, and 18-20- year-olds. Historically, however, each extension of voting rights was not always welcomed by local and state officials due to the legacy of slavery, ethnic codes, and other laws that limited the civil rights of women, poor whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and new citizens.

Union Army occupation of the South following the Civil War instituted civil rights reform that allowed former slaves to vote, which made possible a large number of free black citizens to hold local, state, and federal office. However, predominantly Southern states were particularly creative in establishing “Jim Crow” laws to restrict the voting rights of former slaves. These laws focused on establishing polling place practices intended to prevent certain voters from participating in public elections. These measures included “Grandfather Clauses,” “Intelligence Tests,” and “Literacy Tests.” Many tests were impossible to answer, such as: “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?”

To further remove minority and poor white voters from the voting process, local governments imposed “poll taxes,” which required voters to pay a fee to vote in public elections. These practices, joined with violence against those who challenged these polling practices, effectively removed from public office every black Congressional office holder elected during Reconstruction.

The civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s dismantled the “Jim Crow” laws. Congress passed the 24th Amendment to the US Constitution on August 27, 1962 and the Amendment was ratified by two-thirds of the nation’s state legislatures by September 23, 1962. The 24th Amendment prohibits a state or the federal government from requiring a “fee” from voters in order for them to cast a ballot in federal public elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 provided additional tools to protect voters from discrimination and violence, by establishing the Department of Justice as the federal agency with the power to sue states that restricted the voting rights of minorities.

Privacy and Voter ID

Increased voter identification requirements oblige voters to obtain at least one form of identification for which the state typically collects a fee. Some states allow persons who cannot afford a card to obtain one for free; however, this method can require documented proof of identity, state residency, citizenship and indigence or income. Voter registration applicants are often required to apply for such cards well in advance of an election. The current economy will place additional burdens on a larger number of voters than at any time in recent history, as well as added expenses to states, at a time when state, local, and personal budgets are under extreme stress. States also must provide transparency to voters regarding voting changes, and offer adequate resources to meet the rush of demand for photo identification or other forms of acceptable documents that can be obtained in time for voters to participate on the Tuesday, November 6, 2012 general election.

Increased voter identification requirements oblige all citizens presenting themselves at voting locations - the vast majority of whom presumably arouse no suspicion - to disclose not only their names but also all information that appears on their form of government-issued photo identification. Further, voters are required to present the cards not to police but to poll workers, most of whom are neither professionally licensed in law enforcement nor permanent government employees. Voting ID requirements mandate self-identification not in the context of criminal apprehension but as a condition to an innocent person’s exercise of the constitutional right to vote.

The most common form of government-issued photo identification is a driver’s license, which includes the voter’s name and photographic likeness but also may include such information as the voter’s age, height, weight, driver’s license number, restrictions owing to disability or impairment (such as for imperfect vision or a prosthetic limb), and fingerprints. Furthermore, states, rather than voters, have sole control over the information placed into a state-issued ID card, and the applicant for such identification cannot choose to withhold certain data. Changes in the design and content of driver’s licenses and other state-issued identification are also at the government’s discretion. Any changes may not consider the requirements set forth by state laws governing voter ID requirements.

Furthermore, in recent years states have increased the numbers and types of documents required to obtain state-issued drivers licenses or other identification documents. These requirements have proven to be costly and in some cases burdensome because the funds necessary for purchasing them or the underlying documents were impossible to obtain.

The cumulative effects of what many would deem a minor burden on voter rights would be substantial over time because checking papers, according to University of Toledo professor DJ Steinbock, has “an additional subjective effect on a grand scale: the psychic harm to free people of having to ‘show your papers’.... Not only would people forced to go through identity checkpoints experience some degree of fear and surprise, but also knowing that this has become a permanent part of the social fabric would diminish their sense of liberty.”


  • Mississippi Voter ID Law Put On Hold For Election Following Federal Review , Emily Le Coz, Reuters, October 3, 2012
  • Pennsylvania Judge Puts Voter ID Law on Hold for Election, ETHAN BRONNER, New York Times, October 2, 2012
  • Pa. voter ID law returns to lower court for review, CBS News/Associate Press Harrisburg News, September 18, 2012
  • Meet the Pontius Pilate of Voting Rights: Pennsylvania's Supreme Court The Atlantic, Garrett Epps, September 19 2012
  • Bureaucracy dogs a Pa. woman's quest for voter ID, Associated Press, MARC LEVY, September 21, 2012
  • Pa. high court wants review of voter ID access Associated Press, MARC LEVY, September 18, 2012
  • Study: Voter roll purges, citizenship proof demands, photo ID may affect 10 million Hispanics, Associated Press, September 23, 2012
  • John Lewis exhorts Americans to fight voter ID lawsLA Times, Christi Parsons, September 6, 2012
  • Pa. among worst states for ease of votingThe Mercury, Opinion Page, September 12, 2012
  • Bill Clinton Is Right to Talk About Voter Fraud and RaceThe Atlantic, Andrew Cohen, September 6, 2012
  • Disabled and Disenfranchised, Huffington Post, Rebecca Schleifer, September 5, 2012
  • Sunday is last chance to get free Rhode Island photo ID before Tuesday's primary, Associate Press, September 8, 2012
  • Delegates at Democratic convention vow to fight voter ID laws, Montgomery Advisory, Deborah Barfield Berry, September 7, 2012
  • How Jim Cramer Solved His Dad’s [Pennsylvania] Voter ID Mess In 7 Hours, TPM, Ryan J. Reilly September 11, 2012, 10:13 PM
  • Group opposing photo ID totals up potential costs, Star Tribune, Jim Ragsdale under Minnesota legislature, September 5, 2012
  • The GOP and voter ID laws: How can you not vote? By Etan Thomas, Washington Post, The Root, September 5, 2012
  • Catholics, Lutherans and voter ID, Star Tribune, LORI STURDEVANT, September 8, 2012
  • Rhode Island Primary Tests New Voter ID Law, New York Times, By JESS BIDGOOD, September 11, 2012
  • Pa. Voter ID Law Leads to DMV Trips from 'Hell', ABC News, By AMY BINGHAM, September 11, 2012
  • Voter ID case goes to Pa. Supreme Court on Thursday Challengers attempt to delay Nov. start, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau, Karen Langely, September 10, 2012
  • Will Republicans succeed with Jim Crow lite laws?, The Kansas City Star, MARY SANCHEZ, September 3, 2012
  • Judges' call on voter ID law justified, Statesman, Editorial Board, September 1, 2012
  • Officials looking to September primary as practice run for new voter ID law, The Telegraph, David Brooks, August 26, 2012
  • Republicans Boast About Voter Suppression in Tampa, but the Ground Is Shifting, The Nation, George Zornick, August 29, 2012
  • Counting Voter Fraud, Wall Street Journal, Carl Bialik, September 1, 2012
  • Toomey defends Pennsylvania voter ID law, Washington Post, Rachel Weiner, August 30, 2012
  • Watchdog: Photo ID process not user-friendly ,Standard Speaker, Jim Dino, August 26, 2012
  • Photo ID Not Needed to Vote [in Florida], The Ledger, Letter to the Editor
  • Delaware County issues photo IDs to Fair Acres residents so they can vote in Nov. 6 election, Delaware County News Network, August 28, 2012
  • Older voter hurdles the ID obstacle to cast her ballot, South Bend Tribune, Marcus Marter, August 26, 2012
  • Federal Court Rules Against Texas Voter ID Law, National Public Radio, Scott Neuman, August 30, 2012
  • Rangel: Voter ID law set for critical court showdown, Amarillo Globe News, ENRIQUE RANGEL, August 25, 2012
  • Voter Photo IDs Issued to Older Delco ResidentsHarverford-Haverton Patch, Nate Adams, August 27, 2012
  • Voter Photo Identification Laws and ALEC, Huffington Post, Jerry Kremer, 08/29/2012
  • Legislature wins photo ID, marriage amendment cases, JIM RAGSDALE , Star Tribune, August 28, 2012
  • New ‘voter-only’ photo ID card is unveiled, Philadelphia Inquirer, Amy Worden and Jessica Parks, August 28, 2012
  • Obama Voting Fight on Photo ID Targets South Carolina, Bloomberg News, Tom Schoenberg, August 27, 2012
  • Texas Voter Photo-Identification Law Rejected by U.S. Court, Tom Schoenberg, Bloomberg News, August 30, 2012
  • Voter ID Law Support Linked To Attitudes About African Americans, Study Finds, Gene Demby, Huffington Post, July 19, 2012
  • Suppressing the vote, state by state, Editorial, Los Angeles Times
  • Measuring the Effects of Voter Identification Laws, Nate Silver, New York Times, July 15, 2012
  • Texas Voter ID Law Met with Skepticism At Trial, Wall Street Journal, Devlin Barrett, The Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2012
  • CVS, Best Buy Quit Policy Group That Drafts Voter-ID Laws, Jonathan D. Salant, Bloomberg News, July 10, 2012
  • Voter-ID laws may handicap black voter turnout, Dems fear, Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY, July 10, 2012
  • NAACP chief likens voter ID fight to '60s civil rights battles, MICHAEL GRACZYK, MSNBC, July 9, 2012
  • Michigan Republican governor vetoes broader voter ID law, Reuters, July 3, 2012
  • Battle Over Voter ID Laws Intensify, Corey Dade NPR, June 6, 2012
  • Voter ID education partnership announced, Channel 21 News, Pennsylvania, June 6, 2012
  • MN Supreme Court Steps Into Voter Photo ID Battle, The Uptake, June 6, 2012
  • Suppressing the Vote: New Voter ID Laws, Trish Neilson, Blog for Iowa, June 6, 2012
  • GOP Steps Up Bogus War on Voter Fraud, Earl Ofari, Huffington Post, June 4, 2012
  • PBS Video on the Real Cost of Strict Voter ID Laws
  • Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, Defends Voter ID Law, By John Celock, Huffington Post, June 2, 2012
  • Deadline for voter disaffiliation is June 13, East Bay Rhode Island, May 2012
  • Eric Holder: Voter ID Laws Threaten Voting Rights, By Gene Demby Huffington Post, May 30, 2012
  • Coalition of groups challenges proposed voter photo ID amendment to Minnesota constitution, STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press, May 30, 2012
  • Voter ID laws, fraud and Latinos: Discrimination, a 'big deal' or 'insulting?', By Halimah Abdullah, CNN, May 29, 2012
  • Congressional Black Caucus rallies preachers to tackle voter-ID laws, William Douglas, McClatchy Newspapers, May 29, 2012
  • Early Indicators on Voters Blocked by ID Requirements, Wendy Underhill, The Thicket at State Legislatures, May 4, 2012
  • Pennsylvania Voter ID Law: Viviette Applewhite, ACLU, NAACP File Lawsuit, Leigh Owens, The Huffington Post, May 2, 2012
  • Obama Campaign Grapples With New Voter ID Laws, Michael D. Shear, New York Times, April 29, 2012
  • Voter: Photo ID law "stupid" in New Hope,, April 24, 2012
  • McCrory pushes for voter photo ID law, Claire Williams, The Daily Tar Heel
  • Opinion: The real costs of photo ID legislation,, April 25, 2012
  • In Bucks County, a tale of ID frustration, Bill Reed, Inquirer Staff Writer, April 23, 2012
  • Voter ID amendment is now up to Minnesota's voters, JIM RAGSDALE, Star Tribune, April 4, 2012
  • Democracy Under Attack, David Morris, Huffington Post, April 4, 2012
  • Voter ID laws spark heated debate before U.S. election, Deborah Charles, Reuters, April 5, 2012
  • Voter thwarted in Waukesha for lack of ID, Laurel Walker of the Journal Sentinel, April 3, 2012
  • Justice Dept. Blocks Texas on Photo ID for Voting, CHARLIE SAVAGE New York Times, March 12, 2012
  • Voter ID passes Pa. Senate, Karen Langley, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau, March 08, 2012
  • ACLU Prepping for Legal Challenge to Voter ID Bill Moving Through Harrisburg, by Deanna Garcia, Essential Public Radio 90.5, March 8, 2012
  • Photo ID for voting in Pa. may advance,, March 6, 2012
  • Voter ID drive part of quiet, well-funded national conservative effort, ALEXANDRA TEMPUS, Associated Press, March 5, 2012
  • Department of Justice seeks trial on Florida’s ‘voter suppression’ law, Ashley Lopez, Florida Independent, March 05, 2012
  • Voter ID in Minnesota seen widely elsewhere, Brainerd Dispatch, March 4, 2012
  • Virginia Registrars Doubt Need For Tightened Voter ID Requirements, Hannah Hess, Leesburg Today, February 28, 2012
  • Voter ID requirement again before Colo. lawmakers, Associate Press, February 22, 2012
  • Groups consider lawsuit against state voter ID law, The Abilene Reflector-Chronicle, February 21, 2012
  • Voter ID debuts in Wisconsin primary, ASSOCIATED PRESS, Tuesday, February 21, 2012
  • VA Voter ID Laws Will Suppress Turnout, Letter to the Editors, February 21, 2012
  • Voters face primary deadlines, By Matt Hanley, Aurora Beacon News, February 17, 2012
  • Senate committee approves voter photo ID amendment, Minnesota: Jennifer Brooks, Baird Helgeson, Mike Kaszuba, Patricia Lopez, Jim Ragsdale, Brad Schrade and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger. Contributor in D.C.: Kevin Diaz, Star Tribune (Minnesota), February 15, 2012
  • Voter ID to deter fraud? Prove it, ACLU says, Bill Salisbury, Twin Cities Pioneer Press, February 13, 2012
  • Wisconsin Voter ID Law Becomes A Hardship For Colleges, And Raises Concerns Of A Poll Tax, Ariel Edwards-Levy Ariel Edwards-Levy, Huffington Post, February 13, 2012
  • The Strange Career of Voter Suppression, ALEXANDER KEYSSAR - Editorial, New York Times, February 12, 2012
  • Biometric Registration will phase out existing voter ID cards (Ghana), Vibe Ghana, February 13, 2012
  • Federal Judge Rosemary Collyer leaving her mark on Texas with redistricting, Voter ID and gun cases, Gary Martin, Editorial, Houston Chronicle, February 13, 2012
  • Dane County judge rules against NAACP effort to halt voter ID, Ben Vincent, The Badger Herald, February 12, 2012
  • Voter ID law would hurt hall-of-famer, York Daily Record, February 8, 2012
  • South Carolina Voter ID Law Defended By State In Challenge To Justice Department, Huffington Post, February 8, 2012,
  • Why South Carolina’s Voter ID Suit Could Be Bound For The Supreme Court, TPM, RYAN J. REILLY FEBRUARY 8, 2012
  • Facts are lacking as lawmakers tackle 'crisis' over voter IDs, Roger Chesley, The Virginian-Pilot, February 7, 2012
  • Why Did Liberal African-Americans in Rhode Island Help Pass a Voter ID Law?, Zuylen Wood, The New Republic, February 7, 2012
  • Voter ID Measure Passes Missouri House, Josh Nelson, Inside Missouri Politics, February 7, 2012
  • Voter ID Controversy Brewing At The Capitol, CBS Minnesota, February 7, 2012
  • Voter ID Bill Clears Virginia Senate, February 6, 2012
  • Groups Hope to Stop Wisconsin's Voter ID Law, Barbara Rodriguez,, February 6, 2012
  • Voter ID Bill Clears Virginia Senate, Laura Vozzela, Washington Post, February 6, 2012
  • Why New Photo ID Laws Mean Some Won't Vote, Corey Dade, New York Times, January 28, 2012
  • Voting and Racial History, Editorial, New York Times, January 26, 2012
  • S.C. votes without new voter ID law, Phil Hirschkorn, CBS News, January 22, 2012
  • The War on Voting, Ari Berman, Rolling Stone, August 30, 2011
  • Voter ID hits the voiceless hardest:Seniors, uneducated, will be most affected, Houston Chronicle, Opinion JUDSON ROBINSON III, HOUSTON AREA URBAN LEAGUE
  • More states require ID to vote, Fredreka Schouten, USA Today, June 6, 2011


    Wisconsin's Online Information on New State Voter Government Issued Photo ID Requirement

    Wisconsin has placed information online regarding voter government issued photo ID requirements for different types of voters, in person, absentee military, absentee, elderly absentee, and felon voting. The effort to reach voters must be more aggressive because prior to 2011 voting in that state allowed registration and voting on the same day. The government issued photo ID requirement will disallow voting in this manner for thousands of voters.

    The information on the different requirements for each class of voter is outlined by the [pdf] documents hosted on the state's website, which are provided below:


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