Hit & Run

Voter ID Laws Suppress White, Latino, and Black Voting About the Same Amount



"Republicans Are Trying to Make Sure Minorities and Young People Don't Vote This November," reads a Mother Jones headline. How? MJ continues…

…shorter voting hours, restrictions on voter registration drives, and the requirement that voters present a government ID or proof of citizenship to cast a ballot.

With regard to imposing voter ID requirements, a new study reports that the nefarious Republican plot is likely to fail if the goal is to suppress black and Hispanic votes relative to white votes. Researchers Rene Rocha from the University of Iowa and Tetsuya Matsubayashi from Osaka University in Japan have published an article, "The Politics of Race and Voter ID Laws in the States: The Return of Jim Crow?" in the current issue of the Political Research Quarterly.

They do find that states with relatively small minority group populations and dominated by Republican governors and legislatures have passed more voter ID requirements, both photo ID and non-photo ID, than states with larger minority group populations and/or dominated by Democrats. But what effect do such requirements have on voter turnout?

In a September, 2014 report, the Government Accountability Office noted, for example, that one study that compared ethnic subgroup voting in Kansas and Tennessee (which had adopted new voter ID requirements) to five states that had not done so, found that…

…turnout was reduced among African-American registrants by 3.7 percentage points more than among Whites in Kansas and 1.5 percentage points more than among Whites in Tennessee. However, we did not find reductions in turnout among Asian-American or Hispanic registrants, as compared with White registrants, thus suggesting that the laws did not have larger effects on these registrants.

However, in summarizing the general research on voter ID requirements, the GAO found:

Another 10 studies GAO reviewed showed mixed effects of various forms of state voter ID requirements on turnout. All 10 studies examined general elections before 2008, and 1 of the 10 studies also included the 2004 through 2012 general elections. Five of these 10 studies found that ID requirements had no statistically significant effect on turnout; in contrast 4 studies found decreases in turnout and 1 found an increase in turnout that were statistically significant.

The study cited by the GAO that showed minority group vote suppression and most other prior research compared voting changes between states that had adopted voter ID requirements and those that had not. The researchers in the study Political Research Quarterly parse time series data noting changes in voting participation before and after voter ID requirements were adopted in individual states. Contrary to the earlier state-to-state comparisons, the new study using time-series data extending over the past 30 years finds:

Our primary explanatory variables, photo ID and nonphoto ID laws, have no statistically discernible relationship with the probability that whites, blacks, and Latinos voted in the general elections between 1980 and 2010 except that the nonphoto ID law has a positive and significant relationship with Latino turnout. In short, more stringent ID requirements for voting have no deterring effect on individual turnout across different racial and ethnic groups.

The GAO report also found that data on voter fraud is not centralized and scanty in any case, but did note that …

…there were no apparent cases of in-person voter impersonation charged by DOJ's [Department of Justice] Criminal Division or by U.S. Attorney's offices anywhere in the United States, from 2004 through July 3, 2014.

Frankly, whatever the intentions of Republican lawmakers with regard to imposing more stringent voter ID requirements - prevent fraud or suppress votes - the data suggest that the requirements are a big waste of time and money.