No-Alternative Photo ID vs. Voter ID: Lessons from the First Election Law to Pass in 2023

by Voting Rights Lab

January 31, 2023

It’s no secret that voter ID is a third rail when it comes to voting and elections policy. On one hand, strict photo ID laws that do not provide eligible, registered voters an alternative way to cast their ballot have been found to be racially discriminatory by some courts. They can disenfranchise millions of eligible voters who don’t have a photo ID or whose ID may be expired, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color. On the other hand, the concept of voter ID more broadly – verifying a voter’s identity using a variety of documents and methods, rather than only via photo ID – has engendered fairly broad support in the years since it was first introduced. One national poll conducted in 2022 showed nearly eight in 10 respondents believe some sort of ID should be provided when voting.

Such support for voter ID was cited early and often by Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose as he advocated for Ohio’s new, no-alternative photo ID law – the first major piece of elections legislation to be signed into law in 2023. But the truth is, it was misleading to suggest that there was broad support for a law as restrictive as Ohio’s – which offers no alternative means of identity verification besides a photo ID.

Here’s why Ohio’s new law is an outlier when compared to other states.

How Does Ohio’s New No-Alternative Photo ID Law Work?

The new law, signed by Governor Mike DeWine on January 6, now requires all Ohio voters to show a physical photo ID in order to vote. If they don’t have one, voters have no recourse. While they may cast a provisional ballot, the new law only allows elections officials to count that ballot if the voter returns to their elections office to show  a photo ID. If they don’t? Their vote is thrown out. 

This is a dramatic change for Ohio voters. Under previous law, voters had the option of showing a state-issued ID, or a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document containing the person’s name and address. And if a voter was unable to show any of these documents, they could cast a provisional ballot, which election officials would verify and count if the voter provided the last four digits of their social security number, or their driver’s license or state ID number, on the provisional ballot envelope – or provided one of these numbers to the elections office within seven days of Election Day.

The new law offers no alternatives and no recourse for an eligible voter to cast a ballot unless they can produce a state-issued image of their face on a current photo ID. This new law is likely to have a discriminatory impact on  low-income Ohioans and people of color, as research from the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has shown. The law is one of the most extreme and restrictive in any state today – and was opposed by the state’s bipartisan association of election officials.

Why is Ohio’s No-Alternative Photo ID Law Out of Step with Voter ID Laws Nationwide?

Across the United States today, just 10 states have no-alternative photo ID laws like Ohio’s in place. Those states will only count a ballot cast in-person if a voter shows a photo ID at the polls, or returns to the elections office to later show their photo ID.  No-alternative photo ID laws prohibit election officials from verifying voter identity through any other means.

Compare that to the overwhelming norm: 40 states allow voters to cast a ballot without having to show a photo ID. That includes 15 states without any physical ID requirement for voters (though a voter’s identification is of course verified through other means) and 16 states that allow voters to use an ID other than a photo ID, such as a utility bill or bank statement. The remaining nine have photo ID rules on the books, but give voters the chance to have their vote counted without one – by submitting a sworn affidavit attesting to their identity or by casting a provisional ballot that is verified through signature matching or a comparison of other identifying information, for example.

The bottom line is, 40 states take steps to ensure eligible voters can cast a ballot regardless of their ability to present a state-issued photo ID.

Voters Oppose No-Alternative Photo ID

The 2022 election season proved that, when presented with the details, voters don’t want extreme photo ID laws on the books in their state. Arizona voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have brought no-alternative photo ID rules to the state, opting instead to maintain the state’s current and trusted rules that allow for other forms of voter identification. That option is used by voters across the state, but one with particular importance to Arizona’s native population. In a similar vein, Michigan voters approved a ballot initiative specifically to ensure ballot access for those without a photo ID. Proposal 2 guarantees voters the option to sign a sworn affidavit in place of a photo ID, cementing a longstanding practice into the state’s constitution.

What Comes Next?

The Voting Rights Lab is tracking efforts by lawmakers across the country to make their state ID laws more restrictive. In 2021, Arkansas passed a law that created a no-alternative voter ID law in the state, eliminating an Arkansas voter’s ability to file a sworn statement attesting to their identity. The Nebraska legislature will implement a new relevant constitutional amendment this year; the details of that implementing language will determine whether the state adopts no-alternative photo ID or a more inclusive form of voter ID. In this year’s legislative session, there are bills active in five states that would create no-alternative photo ID. And the Pennsylvania legislature is currently considering a resolution that will go to the voters if it passes in the 2023-2024 session. If no-alternative photo ID bills become a trend, it would represent a dramatic rollback of Americans’ civil rights – and flout the will of the voters.