Three states are holding primaries Tuesday, and voters might understandably be confused over what kind of identification they need to show at the polls. In Indiana, it has to be a government-issued photo ID. In Ohio, you can get by with a utility bill. In North Carolina, you won’t need a photo ID until 2016. But that law, along with ID laws in many other states, faces an uncertain future. “We have Florida, Georgia, Indiana,” says Wendy Underhill, of the National Conference of State Legislatures. She’s ticking off the names of some of the states that required voters to show a photo ID back in 2012. When it comes to state voting laws, Underhill has an important job: She’s the keeper of a frequently consulted list of ID requirements, which seems to change almost daily. (The NCSL has this online resource of voter ID requirements.) This year, Underhill says, there are 16 states that require voters to show a photo ID, eight of which have what are called strict photo ID rules. That means without the credential, you basically can’t vote. “But one of those is Arkansas, and so in Arkansas we don’t know whether that will be in place or not,” Underhill says.
Arkansas’ law is one of several being challenged in the courts. Just last week, astate judge ruled twice that Arkansas’ photo ID requirement is unconstitutional. But the judge said he wouldn’t block the state from enforcing it in an upcoming primary.
Also last week, a federal judge struck down Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement. And a Pennsylvania judge refused to reconsider his decision striking down that state’s law.
“Things seemed to have changed,” says Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. He says that after a period when courts were upholding state voter ID laws, some judges are now striking them down; it might be that the requirements have become stricter.
But it also “might be that the judges are learning that these laws actually don’t serve the anti-fraud purpose that they are advertised as serving,” he explains.