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Study: Voter ID Programs Suppress Turnout

February 22, 2007

Just before November's midterm elections, a piece called "Divide, Suppress and Conquer" described the two-pronged Republican campaign strategy of mobilizing its conservative base while driving down the Democratic and independent vote. When it comes to vote suppression, a new study has found that the Republican tactics have been quite successful, indeed.

In a report just presented to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University showed the impact of draconian new state voter identification laws. Data from 2004 revealed that states requiring that voters sign their name or produce ID documentation suffered a 4% drop in turnout. The impact was greatest among minority voters, with the vote of Hispanic voters down by 10% and that of African-Americans trimmed by 6%. As Kimball Brace of Election Data Services summarized the results, "It validates some of the things that have been said all along about the problems of voter ID."
Which is just what the doctor ordered for the Republican Party. As Perrspectives detailed in November, in recent years the GOP at the state and federal level has been moving to discourage voter participation outside its base. Through tougher voter registration processes, restrictive voter ID programs, unprecedented redistricting, and election day intimidation, the Republicans seek to produce reliably "red" outcomes at the ballot box. For black and Hispanic voters, who in 2006 voted for Democrats by 89% and 69% respectively, the new restrictions are operating just as the GOP intended. (For the details on these efforts, see "Divide, Suppress and Conquer.")
The new Eagleton Study also supported the findings of a 2006 report that concluded there was little evidence of voter fraud at polling places. That May 2006 study for the U.S. Election Assistance Commission definitely refuted the voter fraud myth perpetuated by Republicans. That report concluded, "There is widespread but not unanimous agreement that there is little polling place fraud, or at least much less than is claimed, including voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, noncitizen voting and felon voters."
It is worth noting that the Eagleton study on provisional voting and voter identification did not examine results from election 2006, which occurred after several states enacted new voter ID measures. (Not surprisingly, virtually all of the states featuring the most restrictive ID requirements voted for George W. Bush in 2004.) While Georgia and Missouri had their new ID card programs blocked by the courts, Indiana did move forward with its own and enjoyed a 2% increase in overall turnout. As Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, a Republican, disingenuously put it, "we could not find one instance where a legitimate voter could not vote."
That is, after all, exactly the GOP strategy. In voting as in so many other areas of American life, the Republicans will tell us who is "legitimate."

5 comments on “Study: Voter ID Programs Suppress Turnout”

  1. Don't we want people to have to prove who they say they are before they vote? After 2000, I thought everyone was concerned about voter integrity.
    The "Draconian" law that is in place in Indiana actually mandates that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles issue an Indiana ID Card to individuals without a driver's license, US Passport, or Military Identification AT NO COST. How is this overly restrictive? If you don't have a driver's license and you don't have the money to pay for one, the BMV has to give you a free Indiana ID Card.
    Personally, in this age where every vote truly does matter, I'd rather go to the polls confident that the theory of "one person, one vote" is in effect.

  2. Brett, how do they know those Indianans don't have any of those cards, in order to send them one? How do they get a picture on it?
    I presume the person has to actually come to DMV to get an ID card. That's not "no cost"--not to the person who has to obtain it, nor certainly to the state to manufacture the cards.
    The point is, what's the point? It's a solution in search of a problem. There is no problem with nonvoters trying to vote, so why go through all the hassling of people who are simply trying to exercise their constitutional franchise?
    To answer your question, NO, we definitely do NOT want people to have to prove who they say they are. They should be required to affirm it, as all states do now.

  3. Dear Joe,
    Let me answer some of your questions.
    To start, you ask what's the point? Well, the point is we live in a country where unfortunately there are some among us who would abuse the democratic system to further their own ends, i.e., attempt to vote multiple times, vote multiple times in different precincts, vote as an imposter, vote as someone else, etc, etc. We need safeguards in place to prevent such abuses. I'm a conservative, and I'll even point you to Election 2000, where there were numerous reports of voter fraud.
    And since when in our country's history have our constitutional rights been completely unfettered without legislative restrictions? States require citizens to register to vote before going to the polls - is this too restrictive? I can speak freely, but I can't defame you - is this too restrictive of my right to free speech? I can keep a rifle in my house, but I cannot keep a bazooka in my house - is this too restrictive of my right to bear arms? I won't continue . . .
    Hoosiers (we're not Indianans) who do not have valid photo ID can go to the BMV and get their picture taken there and it will be placed on an Indiana Personal ID. And sure, if you really want to get into economics, yeah it "costs" these people to use time to go to the BMV to get a photo ID, but then again, it "costs" me time and energy when I have had to reregister to vote every time I've moved in the past 4 years. So should we eliminate the requirement to register too?
    We don't live in a country where Uncle Jed lives next to Bob the saloon keeper, so Jed can vouch for Bob when he goes to vote. We live in a country where more and more people are of voting age each election. We live in an age where identity theft is a real threat. And we still live in a country where corruption and fraud are not just possibilities but realities.
    I still maintain I'd like my state's secretary of state to do all that is necessary to make my vote count and count once.

  4. Brett,
    The key issues:
    1. Voter fraud is NOT a real issue.
    The two reports cited document that this is not the case. Despite the claims of ID card proponents in Indiana, Arizona, Missouri, Georgia and elsewhere about it, the data simply doesn't support the contention these or other states suffer from "voter impersonation, 'dead' voters, noncitizen voting and felon voters."
    2. Voter ID Programs Are Intended to Drive Down Participation.
    The Georgia example is case in point. As originally designed, the impact would have been devastating:
    "Those without driver's licenses would have to pay $20 a new digital ID card, available at motor vehicle offices in only 59 of Georgia's 159 counties.
    The impact of the law would be dramatic. The ACLU estimated that as many as 153,000 Georgians would be impacted (based on 2004 numbers); across the state, 231,000 households have no access to a car and 147,000 have no phone service."
    As for the Georgia GOP's motivation for the law, the bill's sponsor said it all. Augusta Republican Sue Burmeister claimed that when black voters in her black precincts "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."
    For more, see:

  5. Brett--
    you say there are those who would perpetrate voter fraud. Who are they? Where do you get the idea that they exist in any measurable number, when the entire point of this post is to note the research that continually fails to find any evidence of what you describe?
    Constitutional rights are ALWAYS given strong presumption against regulation, absent compelling state interest. Here state interest rests on evidence of voter fraud, in order to prevent it. Since there is no evidence of such fraid, there is no compelling interest. And you know as well as I do that the voting franchise is considered one of the sacrosanct rights of all citizens, and one that throughout history has been abused by government. Given our country's track record, imposing restrictions on the franchise is always fraught with the potential for abuse--because we can in fact prove governmental abuse, as opposed to individual voter abuse.
    Identity theft is a threat, sure--what does that have to do with voting? I dare you to find me ONE recorded instance of someone voting based on having stolen another's identity. Just one.
    Your SoS IS in fact doing all he or she can. Adding a suppressive and pointless voter ID law does nothing to support that cause. You might as well force all voters to wear dark sunglasses so they're not blinded when they leave the polling booth. There's as much of a documented problem of that as there is of voting by fraudulent identity.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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