Student ID as Voter ID


Students face unique barriers to voting. One such barrier is having the necessary identification to cast a ballot. 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; others do not.

30 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 20 states plus the District of Columbia have no voter ID law or it is currently enjoined or not yet in force. [1]

16 of the 30 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, or otherwise authorize alternative verification of the voter’s identity. They include: Alaska, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Washington. These sixteen states have different requirements for what information an acceptable ID must contain. Those details are recorded in the PDF chart which can be downloaded below, but we do not explore it here because the voter always has an alternative to voter ID in these 16 states.

That leaves 14 “strict voter ID” states, by which we mean states that will reject a ballot if the voter cannot present ID. 5 of those 14 strict voter ID states (Arizona, 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.[2] However, 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. Many 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 5 states, Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, Kansas, and Virginia, accept all public and private college and university student IDs. [3]

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.

[1] There is litigation pending over Texas, North Carolina and North Dakota’s voter ID laws.  The North Carolina and North Dakota laws are currently enjoined and not in force, so they are not included in the tally of voter ID states.

[2] 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.  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, these two states have been classified as strict voter ID states.

[3] 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 Fair Elections Legal Network’s guides.