The 2020 Backlash Begins: Early Trends in Photo ID Requirements for Absentee Voting

by Liz Avore

January 26, 2021

Record-breaking turnout in 2020, along with rampant misinformation spread after the election in an attempt to cast doubt on the results, has provoked some legislators into proposing new voter suppression methods. My team and I have been scouring pre-filed and recently introduced bills across all 50 states and DC, and I wanted to share a few early trends we’re seeing with bills that will make it much harder to vote—especially via absentee ballot.

Perhaps nowhere are these attempts more apparent than in Georgia. After the national circus that descended on the state following the election, lawmakers are proposing plans to eliminate no-excuse absentee voting altogether or impose restrictive barriers to make absentee voting much more difficult.

One proposal would require voters to submit a photocopy of a photo ID when they send in their absentee ballots.

And Georgia isn’t alone. Legislation introduced in Pennsylvania and North Dakota would also eliminate no-excuse absentee voting. Arizona, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and New Jersey legislators are also considering bills that would impose new ID requirements on voters casting absentee ballots in various ways.

Requiring voters to include a copy of their photo ID with their absentee ballot restricts access without providing any additional security measures. There is no way for county election officials to compare the photo on the ID to the person casting the ballot, so it just becomes extra paperwork.

Photo ID requirements for absentee voting are unwarranted, unhelpful, and will result in suppressing voters—especially those who do not have the proper IDs or lack access to photocopiers. Requiring an ID to vote has historically been weaponized to suppress the vote in Black and Brown communities, and expanding the requirement unnecessarily to absentee voting will have a similar impact. In states like Georgia, it will also make it particularly hard for seniors, veterans, and rural voters to vote absentee—and add to the already high level of risk some of these populations face from coronavirus when voting in person.

That’s why requiring a copy of an ID with an absentee ballot is extremely rare. In fact, Arkansas is the only state in the country to require it.

A few other states require a photo ID in some other step of the absentee ballot process. In Alabama and Kentucky, voters must include a copy of photo ID with their absentee ballot application—but not with the ballot. In Wisconsin, voters must include a copy of a photo ID with their absentee ballot application the first time they vote absentee, but not thereafter.

What’s more, these restrictions translate to a significantly higher rejection rate of absentee ballots—a rate that’s already double that of ballots cast in person. In Arkansas, the absentee ballot rejection rate doubled from 3% in 2012 to 5.9% in 2016 after they instituted the requirement that photo IDs be included with absentee ballots.  Absentee ballot rejection tends to disproportionately impact voters of color and military personnel.

That’s unacceptable. The 2020 election made it clear that giving voters the ability to choose which way of voting works best for them is essential in making sure that elections work for everybody. Efforts to make absentee voting more difficult—either by eliminating no-excuse absentee or adding unnecessary hurdles—are voter suppression tactics, plain and simple.

Our team at the Voting Rights Lab will be tracking the developments on this suppressive legislation throughout state legislative sessions and fighting to ensure that no excuse absentee voting is expanded, not restricted for future elections.

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