Do Voter Identification Laws Depress Turnout?

by John Sides on December 5, 2007 · 5 comments

in Political science

Two recent studies have investigated this question:

1) Based on exit polls that ask voters about the forms of identification that they possess, Matt Barreto, Stephen Nuño, and Gabriel Sanchez find that:

“…immigrant and minority voters are significantly less likely to be able to provide multiple forms of identification, such as a copy of their original birth certificate, or a recent bank statement. In full, we asked respondents about their ability to provide approximately six unique forms of identification, and immigrant and minority voters were consistently less likely to have each form of identification. Because our data reflects the identification trends of actual voters, not just adult citizens, the findings go far to suggest that voter identification laws could immediately disenfranchise many Latino, Asian and African American citizens.”

(The paper is here.)

2) Based on data from 2000-2006 Current Population Surveys, Mike Alvarez, Delia Bailey, and Jonathan Katz find that:

“the strictest forms of voter identification requirements—presenting an identification card and positively matching one’s signature with a signature either on file or on the identification card, as well as requirements to show picture identification—have a negative impact on the participation of registered voters relative to the weakest requirement, stating one’s name. We also find evidence that the stricter voter identification requirements depress turnout to a greater extent for less educated and lower income populations, but no racial differences.

(The paper is here.)

Though there are some questions still to resolve—most importantly, the impact of voter identification laws on ethnic minorities—these two studies demonstrate that strict identification laws will likely reduce turnout, and will do so especially among populations that are already less likely to vote.

This evidence, combined with the general lack of evidence of voter fraud, suggests that restrictive voter identification laws do more harm than good.

[Addendum: See also Andrew Gelman’s thoughts on the Alvarez et al. paper.]


AaronSw December 6, 2007 at 5:44 pm

I think you should replace the “.xml” in your link to Gelman with “.html”. Here’s the correct link.

Blake Emerson December 12, 2007 at 2:30 pm

Voter ID laws represent a broader effort to call into question the political reality of poor and minority citizens. When poor and minority communities are prevented from expressing their interests at the polls, their reality in the calculus of political campaigning and the making of policy diminishes. Beyond this, the deeper implication of voter ID laws is to equate minority and low income suffrage with fraud, and by extension, to suggest that the reality of minorities and poor people as citizens is suspect. These laws capitalize on the histories of descrimination and the circumstances of low income life, which make it less likely that individuals within minority groups will be recognized and accurately accounted for by the bureaucratic and institutional instruments that locate and define the status of citizens…

read on at:

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