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You'll be asked for a photo ID, but you do NOT need one to vote in Michigan

Nov 2, 2016

We recently asked people what they wanted to know about the upcoming election in Michigan.

Steve Merring of Hastings, Michigan submitted this question to our MI Curious project:

"Do I have to present my voter registration card at the polling station?"

Merring asked the question because he had some firsthand experience with this.

“I have been challenged at my local [polling place] to produce a Michigan driver’s license or present my voter registration card as proof of being a registered voter," Merring wrote to us in an e-mail.

He described the scenario, which he says took place in “around fall 2010/2011.”

"In my community, voting took place at the middle school across campus from the elementary I was working at as a physical education teacher,” he wrote. “During a plan period I went across campus to vote to avoid the crowds later in the day. I was dressed in my P.E. instructor outfit and I was not carrying my wallet. After being denied the right to vote I said, ‘OK, I'll go back across campus and get it.’ The other poll worker present said that was not necessary, ‘I see you are wearing your teacher school I.D. and that is good enough."

We can tackle one part of Steve Merring’s question quickly. Workers at polling locations in Michigan will not ask you for your voter registration card.

But they will ask for some form of photo ID.

No photo ID? You can still vote

You should know you do not need a photo ID to vote, but you will be asked for one.

So even if Steve Merring wasn’t wearing his school ID, he could have voted in that election.

Map of voter ID laws in the U.S.
Credit Ballotpedia.org

Search around for a list of voter ID laws in the U.S., and you’ll see that Michigan’s voter ID law is listed as a “non-strict” voter ID law.

So this Election Day, if anybody says you can’t vote in Michigan without a photo ID, they’re wrong.

All you have to do is sign an affidavit, according to state law.

The Michigan Secretary of State breaks it all down in this short video:

Confusion still remains

But even with explainers like this, there is still a lot of confusion around this requirement.

Steve Merring ran across poll workers who weren’t quite up on what is allowed and what isn’t.

The ACLU of Michigan recently sent a letter to hundreds of city clerks reminding them of the law, and asking them to post signs at polling places informing voters “that they may, in fact, vote without a valid picture ID by signing the affidavit form.”

"There's a lot of misinformation out there, and some of that is coming from city clerks themselves."

“There's a lot of misinformation out there, and some of that is coming from city clerks themselves,” says Michael Steinberg, an attorney with the ACLU of Michigan. “I think that half the people in this state still believe that you cannot vote unless you have picture ID…That was never the law.”

The city of Troy put up a sign at polling places in 2014, saying, "Picture identification is required for all voters.” 

And he says other city clerks in Allen Park and Grand Blanc have sent out notices to voters in past years, telling them they have to have photo ID, and not mentioning the affidavit exception.

A sign posted in a Troy polling place in 2014. The ACLU says the sign misleads voters, making them think they cannot vote without a photo ID.
Credit ACLU of Michigan

“We had to write to Allen Park, for example, when they sent out notices to residents that you need picture ID to vote. In 2012, we sent a similar letter to Grand Blanc.”

Neither Allen Park nor Grand Blanc’s clerks immediately responded to our request for comment. But Troy’s city clerk, Aileen Dickson, says they removed those signs once they realized they could be misleading.

“It was a very generic sign, doesn’t offer a lot of details, and it’s one of those things we just always had in the supplies leftover from the previous clerk,” Dickson says. The clerk’s office also stresses the affidavit option during their poll inspector training, she says.

You're less likely to have a photo ID if you're low income, a senior citizen, or a minority according to the ACLU.

For more specifics, you can read this flyer from the Michigan Secretary of State that explains what poll workers are looking for from people “with photo ID” and from those “without photo ID.” 

UPDATE: We heard back from Grand Blanc's city clerk, about the ACLU of Michigan attorney's statement that Grand Blanc had received a letter from the ACLU about misleading voter notices. "I never received any notice of a complaint and have never  placed any notice that was not sanctioned by the State Bureau of Elections," says clerk Bethany Smith via email. "You might want to check with Grand Blanc Township." We've reached out to the township's clerk, as well. 

*Michigan Radio online news intern Michael Schramm contributed to this report

*This post was last updated on Nov. 3rd at 11:12 am.