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Preparing To Vote? Don’t Forget This Important Step

As the 2024 election rapidly approaches, it’s time to start making a plan to vote. When doing so, you probably know the main boxes to check, like making sure you’re registered and deciding what method you’ll use to cast your ballot. But there’s one important factor to account for in the voting process that often goes overlooked: Making sure you know your state’s voter ID laws.

Voter ID laws, in short, require voters to present an acceptable form of identification in order to fill out a ballot that counts. Out of 50 U.S. states, 38 have some sort of voter ID law in place for the 2024 presidential election. However, according to a survey of 304 Gen Zers conducted by Her Campus in May 2024, almost 46% of respondents are unsure about whether their state even has a voter ID law — let alone what that law may actually entail.

Knowing about state voter ID laws is a crucial step to making sure your vote is counted in the next election. Below, Her Campus chats with Selene Gomez, national outreach director for VoteRiders — an organization that aims to combat voter confusion about ID laws and break down voter ID-related obstacles — to help you learn what you need to know about voter ID laws in the U.S.

What Are The Different Types Of Voter ID Laws?

According to VoteRiders, there are three different “tiers” that voter ID laws can fall into. The first of these is strict voter ID laws, which require voters to present an acceptable form of identification in order to vote in person. The next is non-strict voter ID laws, which mean if voters do not present an acceptable form of identification, there are still other ways to cast a ballot that counts. Finally, there are states with no voter ID laws, meaning most voters do not need to show ID to vote, with the exception of some first-time voters.

Once you find out which tier your state falls into, if it has a law, the next step is to figure out what that law entails. This is where it gets really tricky, as Voter ID laws vary greatly state by state.

“I can’t say that there are two states that have the same voter ID law,” Gomez says. In Texas, for example, voters can use gun licenses as acceptable forms of voter identification, but not student IDs. In Georgia, on the other hand, the only student IDs that can be used at the polls are those from public universities. (This is a particularly controversial law because it eliminates the chance to use ID from seven out of 10 of Georgia’s historically Black colleges and universities, and thus potential excluding young Black voters and narrowing the demographic of who can cast a ballot that counts in the state.) 

Knowing your state’s voter ID law is especially important when it comes to the non-strict states. While the strict state laws can be limiting, at least they’re cut and dry, with no room for miscommunication. On the flip side, the non-strict laws are often left up to the interpretation of poll workers, who may not necessarily understand their own states’ laws. According to Gomez, VoteRiders has recorded several instances when people are turned away from the polls with forms of identification that were, in fact, acceptable in that state.

“These little instances create a lot of confusion,” Gomez says. “We don’t want people to be turned away from the polls, or worse yet, not even get to the polls because they don’t feel confident that they have the ID or the documentation that they need to cast a ballot, or are afraid they will feel ashamed if they get turned away.”

The best way to combat this is to ensure your ID is valid for voting in your state, so that even if you are questioned about it, you can handle any situation that arises with confidence.

If you’re still confused about what counts as a valid form of ID, Gomez shares a hot tip: Drivers licenses are accepted in all states with voter ID laws, making this the ideal form of identification to bring with you to the polls, regardless of where you’re voting.

What Happens If Your State Has A Voter ID Law, But You Don’t Have A State ID?

Voter ID laws exist to ensure the integrity of elections and prevent voter fraud, but they’re also a huge roadblock that prevents many people from voting. “Through our most recent research, we’ve found that over 34.5 million U.S. citizens do not have a current state ID or driver’s license,” Gomez says. “People who are privileged enough to have an ID don’t think it’s a big deal, when in reality, it affects millions of U.S. citizens.”

According to Gomez, all states with voter ID laws are required to provide a free state ID to those who would like to vote. The processes to get these IDs, however, can vary — and they may be both time-consuming and difficult. “Not everybody gets their ID the first time they go to the ID issuing office,” Gomez says. “Not everybody has access to their birth certificate, whether it’s because they lost it during a hurricane or it’s at their parents’ house across the country [for example].” The key here is to plan as far ahead as possible to ensure you get your state ID in time to vote.

However, many states allow you to bring alternate forms of identification, such as a social security card, utility bill, or paycheck, among others. What’s accepted will depend on your state’s law, which is why it’s so important to stay informed!

What Happens If You Bring The Wrong ID (Or No ID) To Vote?

If you forget ID or bring the wrong form of ID to the polls, Gomez says there are still options to make sure your ballot counts, though it depends on the state you’re in. “For instance, in Texas, there’s an alternative for secondary documentation,” Gomez says. “If you do that along with signing an affidavit, you’re still able to get a regular ballot.” In other states, you may be given a provisional ballot, meaning after you vote, you have to go to your local election office and present a valid ID to ensure your ballot is counted.” However, according to Gomez, this additional step is so stressful or inconvenient that it stops many would-be voters from getting their ballots counted.

How To Ensure You’re Ready To Vote In The Upcoming Election

First and foremost: Please check your state’s voter ID law. And if you think you know what it is, you should still double-check — according to Gomez, 17 states have changed their voter ID laws since the most recent presidential election, so even if you previously know the law, it may not be the same anymore. Gomez recommends everyone use the map on VoteRiders’ website for the most up-to-date information about what their state requires in terms of voter ID and try to stay up to date about any potential changes. You can also get personalized help directly from the VoteRiders helpline.

With so many unclear voter ID laws in place, going to vote can seem daunting, but don’t let it keep you from exercising your right to vote. “Don’t be scared!” Gomez advises. “I know with all these conversations it can seem intimidating, but it’s not.”

Cate Scott

Syracuse '26

Cate Scott is a third-year Syracuse University student pursuing a dual degree in journalism and creative writing. Actively contributing to multiple campus publications and constantly learning about the journalism field in her courses, she is dedicated to expanding her writing skills across various disciplines and formats. She is currently based in Greater Boston and is interested in exploring magazine writing, politics, investigative work, and culture. Cate has been reading and writing poetry and personal essays for years. She hopes to pursue creative writing as well as her journalistic passions in her future career. Beyond her academic pursuits, Cate is a runner and seasoned music nerd. She is on her school's club sailing team and is a proud and active sorority member. The highlights of her weeks include hosting her college radio show, exploring Syracuse, finding time to play her guitar, and doing it all with her roommates and best friends. A native New Englander, Cate spends her summers taking the train into Boston and hiking with her German Shepherd, Maggie.