It's not just people who lack the required documents who could be kept away from the polls by controversial new voter ID laws. Simple confusion over what IDs meet state guidelines is something millions of would-be voters have experienced, and amplifies the potential of these laws to suppress voter turnout.
We'll probably never know how many Americans just stay home because they think -- erroneously or not -- that they aren't eligible to vote under the new laws.
At HeadCount, a non-partisan organization that stages voter registration drives at more than 1,000 concerts each election year, we compiled a list of the 40 most Frequently Asked Questions about voting and registration, and worked with the Fair Election Legal Network to provide comprehensive answers.
The question we hear most often is this:
I moved and haven't updated my drivers license. Can I still vote?
The answer, in almost all instances, is YES. If you moved within your state you're probably just fine, but any time you are voting in a district for the first time you should bring bring a utility bill or bank statement to prove your new address.
If you moved from out of state, you should be fine as well with any non-photo proof of residence. But a a few states are tougher, especially South Carolina and Oklahoma, and around a dozen will require some other form of ID. You can refer to this interactive map of voter ID requirements for state-specific info.
Another question we are constantly asked is whether student IDs are accepted. The answer is also YES, in every state except NH, OK, SC and TN (IN and GA accept ID from state-run schools only). Here's a map of where and what kind of student IDs are accepted.
In researching this all, we found the ID information provided by state election boards almost never addresses the real-world questions people are likely to ask. Some state websites are vague or even misleading.
Mississippi, where voters approved a strict ID law but the Department of Justice has held up its implementation, has no information about ID requirements on its state election website.
In Pennsyivania, where a judge delayed enactment of a new ID law until after this election, the front page of the election website still shows a hand with PA drivers license, linked to a long list of "acceptable" photo IDs. The site says that voters will be "asked, but not required" to show ID, but it's a mixed message at best.
Whether this is all part of some nefarious plot to keep voters home on Election Day, or just the the inherent confusion that comes with any new legal requirements and legal wranglings, there is clearly a gap between what the general public knows and needs to know.
On National Voter Registration Day, September 25th, HeadCount teamed up with entertainers such as George Lopez, Edward Norton, John Legend, Dave Matthews and Stephen Colbert to kick off a social media campaign that registered over 40,000 voters. As election day nears, we'll turn to them again for help getting critical information out to voters. But celebrities can only do so much.
It's important that the state governments that enacted these laws and even activists fighting voter ID laws convey a clear message that that there's no reason most people should be turned away from the polls. Voters typically DO have what is required to vote or can obtain it. But they could be turned away if they don't know to bring it.
The only way to do this is to address the real questions voters are asking and get accurate information into the public consciousness.