When it comes to America’s eclectic patchwork of voting laws, there is certainly no lack of variety. Rules often vary dramatically from one state to another, and voting in some areas is a significantly harder feat than in others.
Take Virginia and West Virginia. While the latter doesn’t require any ID to vote, its neighbor to the east has one of the strictest ID laws in the nation. And while Virginia permanently strips certain types of violent ex-felons from voting, ex-felons in West Virgina convicted of the same exact crimes can regain the right to vote after completion of their parole.
To add to the confusion, a number of states have recently attempted to dramatically change their own rules on voter ID requirements, resulting in a constantly changing set of laws that can often leave voters feeling baffled and unprepared as elections approach (see examples at the bottom).
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge to a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, a landmark law that is widely considered among the most effective and successful pieces of U.S. civil rights legislation. At issue is a provision in the law called Section 5 that applies only to specific parts of the country with a history of discriminatory voting practices. It covers nine states, mainly in the South, plus regions within seven other states (including California). The law requires that all covered areas receive approval from the U.S. Justice Department before implementing any changes to voting laws.
The map below helps sort through the hodgepodge of individual state laws that determine who can vote. We’ve ranked and color-coded each state by the severity of its voting laws (taking voter ID, felon voting, early voting, and Section 5 into account). See the notes below the map for explanations on asterisked states that have recently changed laws, are waiting for federal approval to do so, or just happen to have their own unique rules.
Special state rules
- *Alabama: Photo ID law set to take effect in 2014. Currently, a valid non-photo ID can include a state hunting or fishing license or gun permit.
- *Arizona, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Washington D.C.: Student IDs are no longer accepted.
- *Arkansas: Student ID is typically not accepted, unless it has an address. For voters who don’t have acceptable ID, Arkansas will provide a photo ID free of charge.
- *Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia: For 1st time voters student ID is typically not accepted, unless it has an address.
- *Mississippi: New state amendment requires government-issued photo ID, although the law is still pending (federal government permission required).
- *Missouri: Although the state has a voter ID law, voters can still cast their ballots if an election judge from each political party vouches for them.
- *Montana, Rhode Island: Both states use signature verification to identify eligibility. If the voter’s signature on the provisional ballot matches the signature on the voter’s registration record, the ballot is counted.
- *New Hampshire: New Hampshire will require government-issued photo IDs after Sept. 1, 2013. The law is being challenged in court by two civil liberties organizations.
- *North Carolina: State legislators recently proposed 3 new voter measure, including a strict new photo ID law.
- *Pennsylvania: Enacted new photo ID law, but it will not be in effect during the state’s May primary elections. However, voters may be asked by poll workers to present any ID with a valid address, even though they aren’t technically required to.
- Brennan Center for Justice
- Department of Justice
- National Council of State Legislatures