FACT CHECK: Do Millions Of Americans Not Have Government Photo ID?

Emily Larsen | Fact Check Reporter

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in a tweet that millions of Americans lack government-issued photo identification.

“Millions of U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification, particularly voters of color. Voter identification laws are a part of an ongoing strategy to roll back decades of progress on voting rights. Also, you don’t need an ID to buy cereal,” the ACLU tweeted Nov. 14.

Verdict: True

Although a large majority of Americans have a government-issued photo ID, many surveys show that a small percentage, equating to millions of Americans, do not. Some studies show that minority communities hold photo IDs at lower rates.

Fact Check:

The ACLU made the claim after President Donald Trump expressed support for voter ID laws in a Nov. 14 interview with The Daily Caller. “The disgrace is that, voter ID,” Trump told TheDC. “If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter ID.”

Voter ID requirements vary by state. Thirty-four states request or require voters to show identification at the polls, but not all require a government-issued photo ID.

In Iowa, for example, voters without an ID are asked to sign an oath verifying their identity before casting a regular ballot. Voters in Kentucky can show a Social Security card or credit card, while those in Ohio may present a current utility bill or bank statement.

However, several states, like Kansas, Wisconsin and Georgia, only accept government-issued photo ID at the polls.

One method of calculating the number of people without ID is to cross-reference state driver’s license records with voter rolls. In several states, this type of analysis found that thousands of registered voters had neither a driver’s license, one of the most common forms of government photo ID, nor an ID card issued by the state’s motor vehicles department. A 2013 North Carolina Board of Elections analysis, for instance, found that 318,643 registered voters could not be matched with customers in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles database.

This method does not account for other forms of government photo ID like passports or state university IDs, however.

In recent years, lawsuits have been filed challenging voter ID laws, and plaintiffs will sometimes put forward statewide estimates on the number of residents without voter ID to support their case. Some judges have found the data in a few of these analyses to be unreliable.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals noted inaccuracies in such an analysis the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People used in a case challenging Georgia’s voter ID law. A district court judge in Indiana rejected a similar estimate from the plaintiff’s expert in a case, in part, because the analysis failed to account for inflated voter registration rolls and compared demographic data from different years.

Several surveys, though, show that the percentage of adult Americans lacking a government-issued photo ID would amount to millions of voters.

An ACLU fact sheet from May 2017 claims that 21 million Americans do not have a government-issued photo ID, citing a 2006 survey from the Brennan Center for Justice. About 11 percent of the 987 voting-age American citizens surveyed said that they did not have a current, unexpired government-issued photo ID. Eleven percent of the adult citizen population in the 2000 Census amounts to 21 million Americans.

The Brennan Center survey also found that black Americans were less likely to have a current government photo ID – 25 percent lacked one, compared to 8 percent of white Americans, with an 8 percent margin of error. It also indicated that 16 percent of Hispanics lacked one, but the results were not statistically significant due to a low sample size.

Other national surveys have similarly found that millions of Americans don’t have government-issued photo ID.

The American National Election Studies (ANES), a collaboration between Stanford University and the University of Michigan, asked 4,271 respondents in a 2016 time series study if they have a driver’s license, passport or another form of government photo ID. About 3.3 percent of respondents said they did not have any of these forms of government ID.

Matthew DeBell, a senior research scholar for ANES, told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email that, including a margin of error, the results could be summarized as, “In the study population of about 224 million, there are about 6 to 9 million adult U.S. citizens who don’t have ID.”

Another survey, the Survey of the Performance of American Elections (SPAE), focused on registered voters rather than the total adult citizen population. It asked about more specific forms of government-issued ID like military IDs and IDs from state colleges. The 2016 SPAE surveyed 10,200 voters, 200 in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The SPAE does not publicly list composite results of voters who had at least one form of government-issued photo ID, but Charles Stewart III, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who conducted the survey, provided TheDCNF with weighted calculations.

About 96.6 percent had at least one photo ID in the form of a driver’s license, passport, public assistance ID, military ID, Native American ID, ID from an in-state college, firearm license, or an ID from a federal, state or local agency, while 3.4 percent either did not have one of those forms of ID, did not provide a response or did not know.

The Census Bureau estimated that 157.6 million people were registered to vote for the 2016 election. Stewart’s 3.4 percent figure applied to the Census estimate would amount to 5.4 million people (though that includes 0.7 percent of people who weren’t sure if they had a driver’s license, 0.9 percent who weren’t sure if they had a passport and less than 0.5 percent who did not respond about the other forms – a composite number was not available).

Additionally, the Government Accountability Office reviewed 10 studies on voter ID ownership in 2014 and found that, depending upon the study, 84 percent to 95 percent of registered voters had a driver’s license or state ID.

State and local-level studies have also found that many people do not have the ID necessary to vote, with varying standards, methods and percentages.

A 2008 American University survey of 2,000 registered voters in Indiana, Maryland and Mississippi found that only 1.2 percent lacked a valid ID, equating to roughly 100,000 registered voters.

Another study of affidavits signed by voters at the polls in Michigan found that of the people who showed up to vote in the 2016 election, about 0.6 percent of voters, or 28,000 people, did not have a photo ID and that minority voters were 2.5 to six times more likely than white voters to lack photo ID.

A 2017 survey of two counties in Wisconsin found that 6 percent of registered voters, or 9,001 people, were prevented from voting because they lacked an ID or cited ID as the main reason that they did not vote in the 2016 election.

Many states, like Virginia and Georgia, offer free photo voter ID cards to those who lack another valid form of ID.

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Emily Larsen

Fact Check Reporter

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