Making Democracy Work

Voting Rights FAQ

Protecting Voting Rights

The LWVUS Position on Voting Rights

Why We Object to Photo ID Laws

What About Fraud?

2016 Lawsuit LWVUS vs Newby

The LWVUS Position on Voting Rights

What is the LWVUS position on Voting Rights?

Statement of Position on Citizen's Right to Vote, as Announced by National Board, March 1982:

The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.

How does the League work to guarantee voting rights?

The LWVUS website expands on the basic position to describe some of the recent advocacy.

"We seek to protect and expand voting rights through advocating for proactive reforms such as expanded early voting and online voter registration, ensuring existing pro-voter laws are being followed and challenging all efforts that limit the ability of voters' to exercise this basic right."

"The League actively opposes voter photo ID laws, advocates against barriers to the voter registration process, works to prevent last-minute Election Day barriers and helps millions of voters get the information and any required documentation they need to vote." 

Why We Object to Photo ID Laws

Why does the League object to photo ID laws?

The short answer: "Voters should not have to face an obstacle course to participate and vote," said Elisabeth McNamara, president of the League of Women Voters of the U.S.

Elisabeth McNamara addressed a forum entitled Excluded From Democracy: The Impact Of Recent State Voting Changes hosted By Representative John Conyers, Ranking Member, The House Judiciary Committee on November 14, 2011. At that time, she pointed out that the League of Women Voters opposed then recent laws and legislation because:

  • They risk disenfranchising millions of eligible voters
  • They will cost millions of dollars to implement
  • There is no evidence that there is a need for such draconian measures

Don't eligible voters already have the required citizenship documentation?

No. According to a Brennan Center for Justice study, Citizens Without Proof:

As many as 7% of US citizens - 13 million people - do not have ready access to citizenship documents. Those with lower incomes are less likely to have ready access to those documents.

In addition, only 66% of voting-age women, about 32 million people, with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.

Don't most people already have a driver's license or some form of photo ID?

Yes. However, the Brennan Center survey found that as many as 11% of US citizens, more than 21 million people, do not have government-issued photo identification.

For those who do have a valid, government-issued ID, 10% do not have photo ID with both their current address and their current legal name.

What kind of documents do people need?

Voter identification laws vary from state to state, but, in general, they require prospective voters to obtain documents such as: a driver's license, a personal ID card issued by the state, a concealed handgun license, a military ID, a citizenship certificate, or a passport, according to a PBS Frontline report. Younger people, older people, minorities, and economically disadvantaged people are less likely to be able to afford the necessary documentation or to be able to navigate the bureaucratic steps to obtain underlying documents, such as birth certificates.

How hard is it to get the proper documents?

The US Government Accountability Office has found that laws and requirements vary greatly in their stringency and the burden they place on prospective voters. For example, costs for driver's licenses range from $14.50 to $58.50.

What About Fraud?

What is the penalty for voter impersonation?

Each act of voter fraud in connection with a federal election risks five years in prison and a $10,000 fine, in addition to any state penalties.

How often does voter impersonation occur?

Rarely. According to Justin Levitt of the Brennan Center for Justice, overwhelming numbers of reported incidences of voter fraud are attributable to clerical errors, matching mistakes, errors in public documents, and simple mistakes.

2016 Lawsuit LWVUS vs Newby

What is this lawsuit about?

In February 2016, the LWVUS and its Alabama, Georgia and Kansas affiliates filed suit in federal district court to stop illegal action by the Executive Director of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that allows these states to restrict voter registration.

Acting unilaterally, EAC Executive Director Brian Newby approved requests from Alabama, Georgia and Kansas to require documentary proof of citizenship when an applicant uses the federal mail voter registration application form. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires the full commission itself to vote on any changes, but Mr. Newby ignored that obligation. 

What began this lawsuit?

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, on January 29, 2016, Newby sent letters to the secretaries of state of Alabama, Georgia, and Kansas stating, without further explanation, that he would allow the three states to require citizenship documents for applicants using the federal registration form. If the documents, such as birth certificates or passports, are not provided, Americans will be denied the fundamental right to vote. The federal form is designed to guarantee a "simple means of registering to vote," and already requires applicants to swear that they are US citizens under penalty of perjury. ... Nearly identical requests from Arizona and Kansas have already been rejected by the EAC multiple times. In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petition from Arizona and Kansas ..., thereby letting stand a 10th Circuit ruling that the states may not force applicants using the federal voter registration form to show documents.