Do Voter Identification Laws Depress Turnout? (Redux)

by John Sides on October 3, 2011 · 5 comments

in Campaigns and elections,Law

A new Brennan Center study—which is getting front-page news coverage—attempts to count the number of citizens that could be adversely affected by new laws requiring voters to have photo identification.  But do these laws actually reduce voter turnout?

In my 2007 post on this subject, I noted two studies.  One determined that immigrants and ethnic minorities would be less likely to have these forms of identification.  A second—available here at the Brennan Center’s website—found that citizens in states that required photo identification reported turning out at a rate 2 points lower than citizens in other states.

But other studies do not find any negative effect of identification laws on turnout.  Here is a one.  And here is another, by Robert Erikson and Lorraine Minnite.  I’ll quote from their conclusions:

The moral is simple. We should be wary of claims—from all sides of the controversy—regarding turnout effects from voter ID laws…The effects may be there. By all tests there is nothing to suggest otherwise. But the data are not up to the task of making a compelling statistical argument.

The Brennan Center has a list of studies here.

None of this is to say that voter identification laws are unproblematic.  It is just difficult to prove that they are associated with lower turnout.

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