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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.


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

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35 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 15 states and the District of Columbia have no voter ID law.

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18 of the 35 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, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire,[2] Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.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 15 states and the District of Columbia have no voter ID law.

[2] New Hampshire allows both college and high school student ID cards, but starting with the November 2018 midterm elections, the state will require that these IDs be issued or expired no more than five years before the election.

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That leaves 17 “strict voter ID” states, meaning states that will reject a ballot if the voter cannot present an accepted form of ID. 7 of those 17 strict voter ID states, Arizona, Iowa, 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.[3] 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.

[3] Due to litigation, Texas’s voter ID law has gone through several iterations. The statute currently in force, which was passed in response to prolonged litigation, requires photo ID from a limited list but allows voters who have none of these to show other forms of ID, including some non-photo IDs, and use a reasonable impediment affidavit to give a reason why they don’t have a photo ID.  North Carolina and South Carolina also 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 voters using the affidavit must still show non-photo ID, we have classified these states as strict voter ID states.

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The other 10 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 institutions’ IDs must contain expiration dates. Georgia maintains a list of public institutions’ IDs that are valid voter IDs. While Kentucky technically accepts public and private institutions’ 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.  North Carolina passed a new strict photo voter ID law in a lame duck session at the end of 2018 that proports to allow the use of student IDs from North Carolina public and private higher education institutions and the state’s community college system.[4] However, this is completely illusory as each individual institution must submit an application, under penalty of perjury, for approval by the State Board of Elections for their institutions student IDs to be allowed as voter ID. Additionally, the list of accepted institutions’ IDs will only be updated once every four years. North Carolina’s inclusion of student IDs is a complete smokescreen, as is the Wisconsin law, which has been mired in litigation for years.[5]  The remaining five states – Alabama, Colorado, Mississippi, Kansas, and Virginia – accept all public and private college and university student IDs.[6]


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.

[4] North Carolina’s voter ID law includes a “reasonable impediment” exception modeled off of South Carolina’s and as such we classify it is a strict photo voter ID law.

[5] There are already federal and state court lawsuits filed over the North Carolina voter ID law. See Southern Coalition for Social Justice state court case Holmes v. Moore, and the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP federal case NC NAACP v. Cooper.

[6] 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 in some situations require this or similar ID of first-time voters who registered by mail regardless of whether the state can match the voter to another database. Please consult your local elections official, and Fair Elections Center and Campus Vote Project’s guides.

Student ID Map and Key image updated 201

Student ID Map

Student ID Map
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