ATLANTA – When voters in Florida and Georgia want to vote by mail in next year’s races for governor, they will have to make sure they take one more step to ensure they receive a ballot: providing their identification.
Just two states had ID requirements in 2020 for voters requesting a mailed ballot. This year, Republicans across the country have zeroed in on mail voting and enacted new limits on a process that exploded in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to Florida and Georgia, legislation to require additional identification for mail voting was introduced in Arizona, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas, according to information compiled by the Voting Rights Lab, which advocates for expanded voter access.
Republicans, seizing on false claims by former President Donald Trump of widespread fraud in last year's White House election, say identification is needed for mailed ballots to deter fraud and improve confidence in elections. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. Courts rejected multiple claims by Trump and his allies, a coalition of federal, state and local election officials called it the most secure election in U.S. history, and Trump’s own attorney general said he had seen nothing that would change the outcome.
Critics say adding ID requirements to request a mailed ballot is not only unnecessary but creates one more opportunity for voters to make a mistake that could leave them unable to vote absentee. Identification, they say, is already required when registering to vote and when voting in person for the first time.
When ID also is required to cast a mailed ballot, as is now the case in Georgia, critics say it will only result in more ballots being rejected. It also is expected to disproportionally affect poor, minority and college-age voters -- groups more likely not to have an ID or to have one with a different address.
“Every additional requirement you add will lead to more ballot rejections, people who inadvertently fail to comply or don’t comply correctly with those requirements,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, which supports expanded voter access.
A Republican proposal in Michigan has drawn particular concern from Democrats because it would require voters to submit a printed copy of their ID when requesting a mailed ballot. Although the state’s governor, a Democrat, is likely to veto any voting restriction, the state has a unique process that could allow this and other voting bills to become law if enough citizens petition for it and the GOP-controlled Legislature passes it.
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, has pushed back against GOP claims that IDs are more secure than the current process, which relies on matching a voter's signature on ballot applications or return envelopes to the signature on file at the election office.
“There is no evidence this change reduces or deters fraud,” Benson said. “It actually makes it harder to detect fraud because those seeking to fraudulently request an absentee ballot need only to submit a copy of a fake ID to do so, whereas it’s much more difficult to forge a signature.”
The Michigan Senate's majority leader, Republican Mike Shirkey, has said voters favor ID requirements and that it was important to ensure registered voters are Michigan residents. “The best way to do that is through a state-issued ID,” he said.
Benson noted that 130,000 of some 7 million registered voters in Michigan don’t have a state ID or driver’s license. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, a Democrat, said that one-quarter of Black residents in his city don’t own a car and many don’t have printers at home.
“If your family has got a car, has got a personal computer, has got a printer copier at home, these bills are not so bad,” Duggan said. “This is what is wrong: They have constructed a series of bills that a poorer family without computers, without a car, has a far harder time voting than the other families. This is voter suppression at its core.”
Voter ID requirements have long been a flashpoint in the battle over voting, with past efforts focused on rules surrounding in-person voting. As of 2020, 36 states had ID requirements for voting at polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Most allow a wide range of nonphoto identification such as a bank or utility statement. Many states allow voters to sign an affidavit under penalty of perjury that they are who they say they are.
Democrats have said they are not opposed to ID requirements as long as multiple forms of identification are accepted and there is an option for voters to sign an affidavit should they not have an ID or forget to bring it to the polls. Federal legislation being pushed this year by Democrats in Congress would make an affidavit mandatory in any state with a voter ID law.
What’s new this year are the additional ID requirements to request or submit mailed ballots. Previously, only Alabama and Wisconsin required identification to request a mailed ballot.
Under a recently signed law, Florida voters will have to provide their driver’s license number, state ID number or last four digits of their Social Security number to request a mailed ballot. In South Dakota, those seeking to vote by mail must submit a copy of a photo ID or a notarized oath.
Georgia's new elections law requires voters to provide their name, date of birth, address and driver’s license or state ID card number when requesting an absentee ballot and when returning it.
Georgia state Sen. Brian Strickland, a Republican whose district is south of Atlanta, told reporters last month that the goal of the requirement was to move away from having to rely on local election officials to match voter signatures on file to applications and ballots, which he described as “not a workable process.”
“This was a big complaint we heard from both sides,” Strickland said.
Georgia's secretary of state, Republican Brad Raffensperger, said he has long supported an ID requirement. He said he has faced lawsuits from both Democrats and Republicans over signature matching, and said the process is subjective.
"When you go to photo ID, it’s very objective,” he said.
In response to challenges by Democrats, legal settlements in several states have assured voters they will have an opportunity to fix problems that arise with a missing or mismatched signature.
The Georgia law already is facing multiple court challenges, including one claiming the ID requirement creates the potential for fraud and identity theft. The required personal identification information can be easily stolen, creating the possibility for ballots to be requested and cast using voters’ names and information without their knowledge, according to a federal lawsuit filed by a group of county election board members, voters and others.
Georgia state Sen. Jen Jordan, a Democrat who represents a metro Atlanta district, said the legislation was built on lies spread by Trump and his allies and will end up harming voters.
“At the end of the day, we can’t ignore the origins of the bill, the intent behind it and how a lot of these new provisions can be used to invalidate the will of the voter,” Jordan said.
Associated Press writers Kate Brumback in Atlanta and David Eggert in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.