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Proof of Citizenship & Voting Identification

All states require an individual to be a U.S. citizen in order to vote in state or federal elections.  Each state requires its residents to provide some form of identification (“ID”) and Arizona even requires its residents to present proof of citizenship to be eligible to register to vote.  Each state selects the form of ID it deems acceptable. In the least restrictive states, residents only need to have their signature verified.  Other states permit residents to provide either picture ID or non-picture ID, including utility bills.  In other states, residents are required to present picture ID.  If the resident is unable to provide the required pictured ID, the individual may still vote if they sign an affidavit attesting to their ID.  Finally, in the most restrictive states, individuals must present a government-issued photo ID and individuals unable to produce the required ID are not allowed to use an affidavit to attest to their ID and subsequently cannot vote.1  

Regardless of a state’s ID requirements, the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA) mandates that first-time voters who register by mail must provide ID either at the time of registration or the first time the newly-registered individual votes in-person.

Proof of citizenship and voter ID requirements are often justified on the grounds that they reduce the potential for voter impersonation.  However, all available evidence indicates that voter impersonation occurs rarely, if at all.  Election officials in Indiana, the state with the most restrictive ID laws in the country, acknowledge that there are no reported incidents of voter impersonation fraud in the history of the state.

Proof of citizenship and voter ID requirements impact all voters, but fall more significantly on traditionally disenfranchised groups like poor, minority and elderly voters. For example, a 2006 nationwide survey concluded that voting-age citizens earning less than $35,000 in annual income were more than twice as likely to lack government-issued ID as those earning more than $35,000.2 Similarly, the same 2006 study found that African-Americans are more than three times as likely as Caucasians to lack a government-issued photo ID, with one in four African –Americans owning no such ID.3Additionally, a study determined that 25% of registered voters in Georgia who are over the age 65 do not own a driver’s license or state ID card.4 These three traditionally disenfranchised groups share a common trait – lower access to motor vehicles and thus a greatly reduced need for a driver’s license or similar form of ID.


1For example, Indiana bars individuals from voting at the polls unless the voter presents a qualifying photo ID. The photo ID must be issued by the State of Indiana or the United States, it must bear an expiration date that has not elapsed, and it must contain the voter’s name in a manner that conforms to the voter’s registration record.
2Citizens Without Proof, supra, at 3
4Billups, 439 F. Supp. 2d at 1311