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States have a wide variety of voter ID requirements and verification processes.
The Senate Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act includes a list of more than one dozen forms of ID that should be accepted in states that require an ID to vote. It also includes a workaround for voters who lack ID.
Republican state lawmakers have sought to tighten voter ID rules over the past decade, saying it will prevent fraud. Evidence shows that voter fraud is scant.
As Democrats renew their efforts to pass federal voting rights legislation, former President Donald Trump suggested that Democrats want to erase state laws that require identification to cast a ballot.
"They are trying to BAN voter ID and other basic measures that can ensure the sacred integrity of the vote," Trump said Jan. 7 in an email from his Save America PAC.
Trump accused Democrats of trying to "pass a radical federal takeover of state election law."
Trump didn’t name any specific bills, and a spokesperson Liz Harrington told us he was "not referring to any legislation."
But Harrington pointed to the House Democrats’ support for the HEROES Act in May 2020. It was a $3 trillion proposal by House Democrats that focused on aid to governments and businesses and included stimulus checks. Tucked into that legislation was a provision that said voters could meet a state’s voter ID requirement by signing a sworn written statement attesting to their identity. The provision did not apply to certain first-time voters who registered by mail.
The voter ID proposal drew criticism from Republicans at the time, but the focus of discussions was about the main provisions of the bill, which aimed to help Americans get through the pandemic. The legislation passed the Democratic-led House mostly along party lines but didn’t pass the Senate.
Democrats tried to pass a similar voter ID proposal within an expansive voting rights bill, HR 1, but the bill never made it into law. The latest comprehensive bill that addresses voter ID is the Senate Democrats’ Freedom to Vote Act. Senate Republicans blocked the bill last fall.
The Freedom to Vote Act also includes a requirement that states offer a workaround for voters who lack IDs, but it doesn’t broadly "ban" ID requirements. Rather, it would set an expansive and uniform policy for what counts as an acceptable ID; it wouldn’t have to be one with a photo such as a driver’s license. It does contain a provision, however, that would prohibit states from requiring voters present an ID in order to get an absentee ballot.
"I don’t know that ban is the right word, but it certainly makes it hard to put in place strict voter identification rules, especially those that make it harder for minority voters to vote," said Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, law professor who specializes in election law.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced that he wants to create a path forward for federal voting rights legislation by Jan. 17. To proceed on the Freedom to Vote Act or other voting rights legislation, Democrats would have to persuade Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., to support changes to the filibuster, and would need every Democratic vote in the evenly split chamber.
Thirty-five states have laws asking voters to show some form of identification at the polls, while the remaining states use other identifying information when voters cast ballots, such as a signature, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Polls show most people support a voter ID requirement, but voting rights advocates say that these polls may not grasp the issue’s nuances — such as safeguards that are already in place — and that the trend toward stricter ID rules could make it harder for a small group of voters to cast ballots. This leaves Democrats seeking to stem the tide of increasingly strict rules, without proposing a total ban on voter ID requirements.
What bothers some voting rights advocates is what’s in the mix of allowable options for acceptable IDs. In Texas and Tennessee, for example, gun permits are considered valid voter IDs, but student IDs are not. Critics say this makes it easy for gun owners, a heavily Republican group, to vote but harder for students, a predominantly Democratic group.
Also, voters who lack government-issued IDs tend to be nonwhite, and that includes in places where elections are settled by slim margins such as Georgia.
Republicans who want stricter voter ID rules argue that they are needed to prevent voter fraud. But voter fraud is rare. An AP investigation in December found fewer than 475 potential cases in six battleground states in the 2020 election, not nearly enough to affect the outcome. "Virtually every case was based on an individual acting alone to cast additional ballots," the AP reported.
The Freedom to Vote Act doesn’t ban a state from having a voter ID law. Instead, the bill says if a state has a voter ID requirement, then there must be more than a dozen acceptable forms of voter ID for casting ballots in person, including gun and fishing licenses, bank cards, utility bills, Social Security cards and student IDs. (The bill specifies that the rules are for federal elections, but it would be impractical for a state to have separate ID rules for state races.)
Under the bill, if the voter lacks an applicable ID, they could present a sworn statement by an adult who attests to their identity. Other workarounds include if the election official has known the voter for at least six months or if an employee of a state-licensed care facility confirms the individual’s identity. Many states already have workarounds for voters who lack IDs, including the sworn oath or asking them to recite their date of birth and address.
Voters who can’t meet any of those three conditions in the bill would have to cast a provisional ballot.
The bill also requires states with an ID requirement to provide a free ID to registered voters.
A separate part of the bill prohibits states from requiring voters to submit IDs to obtain or cast absentee ballots. States can still require voters to sign the ballot envelope, a key security measure used to verify voters’ identities.
It is this measure that at least one group opposing the Freedom to Vote Act says amounts to a ban on voter ID for absentee ballots.
"I consider the Freedom to Vote Act to be as close as one can come to banning identification requirements without actually doing it," said Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, a conservative group that opposes the legislation. Snead said about six states currently require ID — typically a driver’s license, state ID or last four digits of a Social Security number — to vote by mail.
Regarding Freedom to Vote Act’s provisions for in person voting, the Honest Elections Project uses softer language, saying the bill "undermines existing voter ID laws nationwide."
Voting rights advocates who favor looser ID rules say calling the legislation a ban on voter ID goes too far.
"It is a requirement that the form of identification required, including a sworn statement, is one that everyone can access," said Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, which supports the bill.
Trump said in an email that Democrats "are trying to ban voter ID." His spokesperson cited a Democratic-backed bill in 2020 that would have eased voter ID requirements. That bill was not enacted.
In recent years, Democrats have proposed multiple bills that would set a federal standard for acceptable voter ID and provide workarounds for people who didn’t have one, but wouldn’t ban ID requirements.
The Freedom to Vote Act, now under consideration, also sets expansive standards for allowable IDs and workarounds, and it bars states from requiring voters to submit an ID to obtain or cast an absentee ballot. But the bill allows states to have voter ID requirements as long as they include a lot of options for what counts as an ID.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
Save America PAC, Statement, Jan. 7, 2022
Congress.gov, H.R.6800 - The Heroes Act, House vote May 15, 2020
Congress.gov, S.2747 - Freedom to Vote Act, Senate vote Oct. 20, 2021
National Conference of State Legislatures, "Voter Identification Requirements," updated Jan. 7, 2022
The New York Times, Why Democrats Are Reluctantly Making Voter ID Laws a Bargaining Chip, Sept. 17, 2021
The Washington Post The Fix, Stacey Abrams and the Democrats’ evolution on voter ID, June 21, 2021
USA Today, Fact check: HEROES Act would eliminate state requirements for voter IDs in federal elections, May 23, 2020
Rep. Claudia Tenney, R-N.Y., Tweet, Jan. 9, 2022
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., Tweet, Jan. 3, 2022
Honest Elections Project, Backgrounder on Freedom to Vote Act
Brennan Center for Justice, Backgrounder on Freedom to Vote Act
Transcript, President Donald Trump Holds News Conference in Bedminster, N.J., as Released by the White House, Aug. 8, 2020
New York Post, Trump blasts Capitol riot commemoration as ‘phony media event’ Jan. 7, 2022
Email interview with Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director for voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school, Jan. 7, 2022
Interview with Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, Jan. 7, 2022
Email interview with Rick Hasen, law professor at the University of California-Irvine, Jan. 7, 2022
Email interview, Danielle Lang, senior director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center, Jan. 10, 2022
Email interview, Matthew Weil, director, Elections Project | Bipartisan Policy Center, Jan. 7, 2022
Email interview, Liz Harrington, spokesperson for former President Donald Trump, Jan. 10, 2022
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