Occasionally, on Facebook and other social networking websites, someone will post a picture that states that if you need ID to purchase cigarettes or alcohol or even to use your credit card you need an ID to be able to vote. The last few months have seen an increase in states trying to pass voter ID laws that make it a requirement for people to show their valid ID to be able to vote. These debates are mainly partisan debates because those that might not have ready access to an ID are for the most part, poor, minorities, and the elderly. Those people tend to vote Democrat. Those on the left argue that those who might not have ready access to an ID are essentially being disenfranchised. Those on the right argue that this is a necessary risk in order to ensure that there is no fraud. In the journal article “Effects of Identification Requirements on Voting: Evidence from the Experiences of Voters on Election Day”, author Stephen Ansolabehere with collaboration from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project examined the consequences of voter ID laws using survey data from the 2006 general election and the 2008 presidential primaries on Super Tuesday. The article can be found in PS: Political Science & Politics, January 2009 issue.
(All quotes from the blog post are in reference to the journal article unless otherwise noted.)
“In the 2006 sample, 49% of respondents reported that the poll workers asked them to show photo ID when they voted. In the 2008 sample that figure had risen to 56%.” In 2006, only two states required photo identifications, other states labeled as Voter ID states in the article allowed poll workers to request identification. This means that the poll workers were allowed to pick and choose who had to show photo identification. Most likely correlated with this is that both the 2006 and 2008 surveys showed “considerable racial differences.” “In the 2006 general election, 47% of white voters reported being asked to show photo identification at the polls, compared with 54% of Hispanics and 55% of African Americans.” There was a slight increase overall of showing IDs in the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries. “53% of whites were asked to show photo ID, compared with 58% of Hispanics and a staggering 73% of African Americans. These racial differences persisted upon holding constant income, education, party identification, age, region, state laws, and other factors.” The author notes that “these surveys provide the first individual-level data that poll workers commonly ask voters for photo identification, even in places where they are not allowed to. The data further shows that poll workers do not administer this procedure fairly or without regard to race, which raises the important possibility that in practice voter-identification procedures violate the Voting Rights Act.”
While asking for IDs prior to voting is wrong, it is not necessarily disenfranchising voters. The question remains as to how many people were denied their vote as a result of voter-identification requests. “The answer is—very few. If respondents reported that they were asked to show photo identification, the 2006 and 2008 surveys probed whether the respondents were then allowed to vote. In the 2006 survey, out 22,211 voters only 25 said that they were asked for identification and, then, disallowed from voting—that is one-tenth of 1% of the sample of voters. In the 2008 survey, three out of 2,564 respondents said that they tried to vote but were not allowed because of voter ID, a fraction of a percent.” It is unclear whether or not these denials were legitimate or erroneous. It might be possible that the mere threat of a voter identification request might scare away potential voters. “Of the 1,113 non-voters in the survey, four cited this [not having proper ID] as a reason, and these individual cited other reasons as well—‘bad weather’ and ‘forgot to vote.’”
The author concludes that “voter ID does not appear to present a significant barrier to voting.” There is a caveat to this. That is that these surveys were conducted during a mid-term election and a presidential primary election. While there were large turnouts, they were not nearly as large as presidential general elections. It’s possible that a higher turnout would cause more denials of the right to vote.
The reason for voter ID laws is usually to combat voter fraud. Some have argued that if people believe that there is a belief of voter fraud then it might undermine the legitimacy of elections and might discourage people from voting. These claims are tested by the author and neither appear to be true. “In the 2007 survey, of those who thought fraud a very common occurrence, 47% voted and of those who thought fraud rare, 44% reported voting. Controlling for education, income, partisanship, and other factors did not change this non-finding. Belief in the frequency of election fraud is uncorrelated with propensity to voting.”
The other claim might be that stricter identification will shore up confidence and increase turnout. “Those voters living in states with stricter identification laws did not report higher levels of confidence or higher rates of voting than those living in states with relatively weak identification rules. In states with the weakest ID rules, 26% think fraud occurs very often and 10% think it occurs rarely. In states with the strictest ID rules, 29% think fraud occurs very often and 9% think it occurs rarely.”
I’ll quote extensively from his “Discussion” section. “Approximately half of all people are asked for ID when they vote but almost no one reports subsequently being denied the vote or reports that lack of ID was a reason for not attempting to vote. A majority of Americans say that voter fraud is common, but voter-identification laws and practices have little effect on those beliefs, and those beliefs have no effect on rates of electoral participation…It will require more intensive survey research to track the voters’ (and non-voters’) experiences and careful modeling of aggregate election returns to determine whether the introduction of ID laws caused a drop in the total number of votes recorded. The conclusion supported by the data examined here, is that voter-ID laws have no effect on turnout, and hence little or no fraud, little or no denial of access, and little or no effect of on confidence in the electoral system.”
Basically, the assumed consequences of voter ID are not correct based on this data. In Purcell v. Gonzalez, the Supreme Court opined that “the government’s interest in limiting corruption or perceived corruption of the electoral process must be weighed against the constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.” It appears that we are right where we started.