In the days leading up to the Senate’s vote on Democrats’ voting rights legislation, claims of lax voter identification requirements across the USA circulated widely on social media.
“When you need to show papers to eat in a restaurant, but not to vote, something is wrong,” reads text in a Jan. 18 Facebook post.
The post accumulated more than 3,500 shares within two days. Similar claims have also racked up tens of thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
The posts appear to take aim at COVID-19 vaccine requirements, which in some places apply to people who dine at restaurants. But the claim paints an overly broad picture of both voter ID laws and vaccine requirements nationwide.
“This is a patently silly claim,” Joshua Douglas, a research professor of law at the University of Kentucky, said in an email.
USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.
The claim makes it seem like voters in most states don’t have to show their ID at the polls. But that’s misleading.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show ID at the polls. Each state has its own rules, with some more stringent than others.
“Some states have strict limits on what counts as a government-issued ID,” Richard Briffault, a professor of legislation at Columbia Law School, said in an email. “Texas, for example, counts a government-issued handgun permit, but not a state university student ID.”
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Other states request ID, but residents can still vote without it.
In Florida, for example, voters who don’t present ID cast a provisional ballot, and officials compare the signature to the one they have on file. In other states, including Michigan and South Dakota, voters who don’t present ID must sign an affidavit before casting their ballot.
In the remaining 15 states and the District of Columbia, voters can cast their ballot without presenting any form of identification, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But election officials still verify their identities.
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In California, for example, officials must confirm voters are on the registration list. First-time voters who did not provide their driver’s license, state identification or partial Social Security number on their registration may be required to present an ID at the polls. Other states, including Illinois and New Mexico, have similar rules.
“In large part due to litigation, virtually every state now has a fail-safe backup if a voter shows up without an ID,” Douglas said. “That’s important because it offers a workaround for an ID requirement. The same goes for other things that people say require an ID, like flying or buying Sudafed.”
It’s worth noting that confirmed cases of voter fraud are relatively rare.
An Associated Press review found fewer than 475 cases of voter fraud in six battleground states disputed by former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election. In most cases, the ballots weren’t counted. USA TODAY has previously debunked the claim that widespread fraud affected the outcome of the election.
USA TODAY could find no evidence of a statewide proof-of-vaccination requirement for indoor diners. However, some major cities do have such rules, and private businesses in most states can require their customers to be vaccinated.
According to Ballotpedia, five states have specifically exempted fully vaccinated people from some COVID-19 restrictions. Others have vaccine mandates for certain kinds of workers.
None of those rules single out all in-person diners, as the Facebook post makes it seem.
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Some states, including California and Washington, require businesses hosting large indoor gatherings – including concerts and sporting events – to verify the vaccination or testing status of attendees. In Hawaii, travelers who are fully vaccinated or test negative for COVID-19 are exempt from the state’s mandatory five-day quarantine.
However, some major cities do specifically require restaurantgoers to be vaccinated.
One example is New York City, which in August became the first city to announce a vaccine mandate. Anyone older than 12 must show proof of full vaccination to dine indoors, hit the gym or go to a movie theater, while children ages 5-11 are required to show proof of one dose. Several other cities, including Boston, Chicago and San Francisco, have similar rules in place.
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Meanwhile, 20 states have expressly prohibited proof-of-vaccination requirements by legislation or executive order, according to Ballotpedia.
Most of those measures, including those in Alaska and Oklahoma, bar state agencies from mandating proof of vaccination. But some, including measures in Alabama and Florida, go a step further by banning private businesses from requiring their customers to be vaccinated.
USA TODAY has previously debunked claims that vaccine mandates violate federal law.
Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that Americans need to show “papers to eat in a restaurant, but not to vote,” because without further context it could be misleading.
In 35 states, election officials ask or require voters to show their ID at the polls. In states that don’t have ID requirements, officials verify the identity of voters in other ways. Meanwhile, most states do allow private businesses to require proof of vaccination. But sweeping mandates exist only in a limited number of cities.
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