By Claire Biggs
The 2014 mid-terms are just days away, but if you thought Election Day was as simple as showing up to your local polling place, you probably should brush up on your knowledge of Voter Identification laws.
Voter ID laws have been on the books since 1950, but many states are passing stricter regulations that impact what you're required to bring with you. Depending on where you live in the country, those laws may affect your access to the booth -- merely being registered to vote isn't enough. Here are 8 things you need to know about voter ID laws:
1. Voter ID History Is Fascinating
As the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) explains, South Carolina was the first state to pass a voter ID law. Hawaii, Texas, Florida and Alaska soon followed, but in each state there were provisions “for voters to be able to cast a regular ballot even if they did not have the requested ID.”
2. You Can Map It Out
Want to see the status of voter ID laws around the country? The NCSL created a nifty, color-coded map that shows how the laws vary from state to state, and how strict the law is in each state.
3. Voters Are Eligible For Exemptions In Some States
According to the NCSL, some states will allow voters to cast a ballot -- even if that state has a strict voter ID law. For example, in Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, you might be exempt if you have "religious objections to being photographed."
In Wisconsin, that exemption also applies to people who "are victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking and have a 'confidential listing.' "
4. Voter ID Laws Are Controversial In Some Quarters
Although supporters are quick to point out that voter ID laws are supposed to prevent fraud, opponents argue they "disenfranchise eligible voters and add cost and inefficiency to the voting process."
5. Voter ID Laws Vary By State
Here’s the first thing to know about voter ID laws: A total of 34 states have some kind of voter ID law, but those regulations vary from state to state. For example, if you’re in Pennsylvania, you’re off the hook, but if you call Texas home -- you better have a photo ID in hand.
6. Not All IDs are Created Equal
As we mentioned, each state gets to determine what type of identification is required to vote. Some states require IDs without photos, while others will only permit you to vote with approved photo IDs. In Texas, for example, you can vote with a concealed handgun license, but forget about bringing your school-issued student ID to vote.
7. Even Nuns Get Turned Away
In weird voter ID news, did you know a group of nuns were turned away from a polling station in Indiana? Some among the elderly religious women in their 80's and 90's came bearing expired passports, but none had the required state/federal ID with photo.
8. Get to the DMV ASAP
Don’t panic if you’re worried about not being able to Rock the Vote because you don’t have a driver’s license. You can still swing over to your local DMV and pick up a non-driver’s personal ID card. You can find a list of DMV locations here.
If you have more questions about the 2014 elections, check out our Voter Self Defense Guide.