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More States Consider Voter ID Laws Despite Contradicting Research

In a June poll, 84 percent of registered Nevada voters supported implementing voter ID rules. Some studies indicate ID requirements impede access, but evidence is mixed.

Nevada voters may decide in November whether they should join three dozen other states in requiring voters to present valid identification before casting a ballot. And Maine may not be far behind, as the push for voter ID requirements grows nationwide despite conflicting studies over their effects.

Conservative organizers in Nevada say they have gathered enough signatures to qualify their measure for the general election ballot. It would amend the state constitution to require voters to present an ID at polling places or to include some form of identification — such as the last four digits of a driver's license or Social Security number — on mail-in ballots.

"We've seen over the last 20 years there have been questions about the people who voted and whether there have been fake ballots," said David Gibbs, chair of Repair the Vote PAC, a North Las Vegas-based group that is leading the ballot initiative effort. "This is one way to tighten that up. A lot of people look at it and it makes sense."

If the measure makes the ballot and voters approve it in November, they will have to vote on it again in 2026, as required to amend the state's constitution.

It has a good chance of passing. According to a June poll by Fox News, 84 percent of registered Nevada voters support implementing voter ID. Those findings closely mirror national poll numbers from the Pew Research Center, which in February found that 81 percent of U.S. adults favored requiring people to show a government-issued photo ID to vote.

Voting rights advocates cite research showing that such rules block many legitimate voters — especially young, Black and Latino voters — from the polls. But backers of voter ID laws point to other studies which suggest that the rules have had a minimal effect on voter turnout, partly because Democrats often respond to them by amping up their voter mobilization efforts.

For more than a decade, Republican lawmakers have pushed to implement stricter voter ID laws. Thirty-six states require some form of identification to cast a ballot, though laws vary by state over the accepted types of identification and requirements to vote by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That list may grow.

In May, the Republican-led New Hampshire legislature passed a measure that would require residents to prove their citizenship status to register to vote. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has yet to sign it into law.

In Maine, conservative activists are still gathering signatures to put their voter ID measure on the November 2025 ballot. Maine does not require a photo ID at polling places, and Democratic lawmakers are trying to keep it that way, arguing it could prevent residents who are less likely to have a driver's license from being able to vote.

Voting rights advocates say voter ID laws can lead to confusion at polling places, and that states that implement them should do more to ensure equitable access to official IDs.

"The more complicated we make voting, the more hurdles we put in front of people, the more pitfalls there are for people who are just trying to participate in our democracy," said Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a progressive policy nonprofit.

The Brennan Center, along with the Center for Democracy and Civic Engagement at the University of Maryland and voting rights organizations Public Wise and VoteRiders, released a survey in June which found that nearly 21 million voting-age U.S. citizens don't have current driver's licenses.

The survey also found that more than a quarter of Black and Latino adults lack a driver's license with their current name or address — higher than their white and Asian American counterparts. A substantially higher percentage of young people also lack up-to-date identification, it said.

Getting an updated driver's license takes time and costs money, which may be harder for people who are of a lower socioeconomic status, Morales-Doyle said. And those who earn less typically change addresses frequently, he added.

The more complicated we make voting, the more hurdles we put in front of people, the more pitfalls there are for people who are just trying to participate in our democracy. — Sean Morales-Doyle, director of the voting rights program at the Brennan Center for Justice

The survey also showed a considerable gap in voter understanding of state voter ID laws: It found that more than half of Americans in states that require identification to vote did not know their state's laws. A March report from NBC News found that 29 million Americans live in states that have implemented a new voter ID law since 2020.

Recent elections in North Carolina and Ohio illustrate the impact: Confusion over voter ID rules led to rejected provisional ballots.

VoteRiders is attempting to increase awareness and knowledge of voter ID requirements through its on-the-ground efforts, 24/7 helpline, and text message, billboard and PSA outreach.

The group has organizers in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin who go to college campuses, LGBTQ+ Pride events, health clinics and community resource fairs, delivering information on those states' voter ID laws. Annually, the group helps more than 10,000 people get an ID.

"One of the things that keeps me up at night is thinking about how dramatically the rules of the game have changed when it comes to voting since 2020," said Lauren Kunis, the nonpartisan group's CEO. "I worry that many people on the issue of ID and other aspects of the voting process are going to be caught flat-footed in November."

In Nevada, Repair the Vote PAC last week turned in more than 179,000 signatures it gathered throughout the state, using both volunteers and a company it hired to go door-to-door and to stand outside grocery stores and libraries. The state requires more than 102,000 valid signatures, including a certain number in every congressional district. State and local officials must now validate those signatures.

Gibbs, the group's chair, argues that the new identification requirement would not throw up obstacles to voting. He dismissed the argument that voter ID measures make it harder for people of color or lower-income people to vote.

"You need a photo ID to get a job. You need a photo ID to open a bank account. You need a photo ID to do almost anything," he told Stateline. "I personally don't know anybody who doesn't have one, but then again, at the same time, you can get one."

(c)2024 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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