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What GAO Found

States have a variety of identification requirements for voters when they register to vote, vote at the polls on Election Day, and seek to cast an absentee ballot by mail that will be in effect for the November 2012 election. Voter identification requirements vary in flexibility, in the number and type of acceptable documents allowed, and in the alternatives available for verifying identity if a voter does not have an acceptable form of identification. Thirty-one states have requirements for all eligible voters to show identification at the polls on Election Day.

States have also established alternatives for voters to cast a ballot other than at the polls on Election Day. Most states—35 and the District of Columbia—currently provide an opportunity for voters to cast a ballot prior to the election without an excuse, either by no-excuse absentee voting by mail or in-person early voting, or both. States vary in terms of the number of days and locations provided for early voting, as well as whether voting is available on a weekend, and whether the state allows voters who cast an absentee ballot without an excuse to be on a list to permanently receive a ballot by mail without an excuse.

States also regulate the process by which voters register to vote and have a variety of requirements that address third-party voter registration organizations that conduct voter registration drives. Thirty states and the District of Columbia have at least one requirement addressing third-party registration organizations, which may include how quickly the organization must return completed registration applications or how the organization may compensate its employees.

States have been active in the past 10 years in amending their election codes, regulations, and procedures, not only to incorporate requirements mandated by Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA), but also to make substantive changes to their laws in the areas of voter identification, early voting, and requirements for third-party voter registration organizations.

Why GAO Did This Study

This report provides information on state laws that will be in effect for the November 2012 election regarding:

  • state identification requirements for all eligible voters, including requirements to show identification prior to 1) registering to vote, 2) voting at the polls on Election Day, and 3) casting an absentee ballot by mail; what types of documents satisfy the requirements; and what processes are in place if voters do not have the required identification prior to voting in person on Election Day;
  • state provisions for no-excuse absentee voting by mail and in-person early voting; which of the no-excuse absentee voting provisions allow for registered voters to apply for an absentee ballot on a permanent basis; and what provisions for early voting specify about voting on the weekend, the number of days available for early voting, and the number of locations available;
  • state requirements relating to third-party voter registration organizations.

In addition to presenting information on current state requirements, we provide information on what substantive changes, if any, states have made to these requirements within the past 10 years—since the time that HAVA was enacted—including where states have enacted laws that may become effective after the November 2012 election.

For more information, contact Edda Emmanuelli Perez at (202) 512-2853 or or William O. Jenkins, Jr. at (202) 512-8777 or


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