Student ID as Voter ID

Students face unique barriers to voting. One such barrier is the requirement to bring an accepted form of identification to cast a ballot.[1] Voter ID laws vary state by state, ranging from no voter ID requirement to strict photo ID requirements that only include certain types of ID that meet specific criteria. Some of these states accept student IDs issued by colleges and universities; others do not.

34 states currently have some form of in-person voter ID law in place, but the list of acceptable IDs varies substantially from state to state. Some states have expansive lists including both photo and non-photo forms of ID, with many of these states offering an alternative procedure to presenting ID at the polls. The remaining 16 states plus the District of Columbia have no voter ID law or it is currently enjoined or not yet in force.

19 of the 34 voter ID states permit voters without ID to sign a personal identification affidavit instead of presenting ID, cast a provisional ballot which will be counted if the signature matches the registration database, and/or otherwise authorize alternative verification of the voter’s identity. They include: Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa,[2] Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire,[3] Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.

That leaves 15 “strict voter ID” states, by which we mean states that will reject a ballot if the voter cannot present ID. 6 of those 15 strict voter ID states (Arizona, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas) do not accept student ID cards. There is quite a bit of variation between the ID laws on this list. South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas’s laws are all strict photo ID requirements.[4] However, North Dakota, Arizona and Ohio allow for some non-photo forms of ID.  Arizona’s law allows the voter to present two forms of non-photo ID with a name and address in lieu of one form of photo ID. And in Ohio, colleges and universities may issue students living on campus a current utility bill with a current address that students can use as voter ID. A “zero-balance” bill indicating that the student has already paid for utilities is acceptable.

The other 9 strict voter ID states accept student IDs but there is variation in what kinds of student IDs are acceptable and what information the student ID must contain in order for it to be used as voter ID. Georgia and Indiana only accept state university and college ID cards, and Indiana’s public school IDs must contain expiration dates. Georgia maintains a list of public school IDs that are valid voter IDs. While Kentucky technically accepts public and private school IDs, the state’s voter ID law requires IDs to contain a signature, so it is unclear how many student IDs actually qualify. Wisconsin accepts student ID cards from public and private schools as long as the ID contains a name, photo, signature, issuance date, and expiration date that is not more than two years after the issuance date and is presented with proof of current enrollment such as a tuition fee receipt or an enrollment verification letter. A number of Wisconsin colleges and universities have updated their IDs to contain these elements or will issue a compliant ID upon request, but others have not taken these steps. The remaining five states – Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, Kansas, and Virginia – accept all public and private college and university student IDs.[5]

Student IDs are given to nearly every college student after providing proof of their identity upon enrollment. They are convenient and secure options that should be acceptable voter ID. Since that is not the case in every state, it is critical for students to understand what forms of identification they can use at the polls so they are not turned away or forced to take extra steps to cast a ballot that counts.

Updated October 23, 2018

[1] A handful of voter ID laws also apply to absentee voting but this brief focuses on in-person voting requirements.

[2] Starting in 2019, Iowa will no longer allow identity affidavits as an alternative to the voter ID requirement.

[3] New Hampshire allows both college and high school student ID cards, but in the November 2018 midterm elections, the state will require that these IDs be issued or expired within five years of the election.

[4] Texas passed a strict voter ID law, but the law is still embroiled in litigation.  The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit found the law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.  The remedy ordered by the district court for the November 8, 2016 general election allowed voters to show other forms of ID, including some non-photo IDs, and voters without any form of ID to use a reasonable impediment affidavit.  South Carolina and Texas do provide an alternative to voters who attest to facing a “reasonable impediment” in obtaining a voter ID.  However, because this exemption is not available to all voters, the standard is ambiguous and in Texas some local election officials have threatened voters using this alternative with prosecution, we have classified these two states as strict voter ID states.

[5] It should be noted that federal law requires voters who are registering for the first time and mailing in that registration form to present ID at the polls if they fail to provide or if the state cannot match their in-state driver’s license or ID number or the last 4 digits of their Social Security Number. A very few states require this ID of first-time mail-in registrants regardless of whether the state can match the voter to another database. Please consult your local elections official and Campus Vote Project’s guides.