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.

{ 5 comments }

David October 3, 2011 at 11:27 am

All of these studies were done in good faith, I believe. However, the two which argue that the data does not YET show voter disenfranchisement still offer warnings. For example, the Columbia study warns ominously, “Additional elections and additional states enforcing strict voter ID laws will provide more and better data.”

In other words, after voters have been disenfranchised in the coming elections, we can finally document and study it.

Pat Gavin October 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm

The real question is whether these laws change the demographic or partisan composition of the electorate, not whether they affect overall turnout.

Frank in midtown October 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I’m sure the proponents will site the 2% turn-out gap as proof of the “fraud” they intend on preventing

Edwin Perello October 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm

2 points lower IS significant in an election.

Also, “96-Year-Old Black Woman Denied Voter ID in Tennessee”
http://gawker.com/5847225/96+year+old-black-woman-denied-voter-id-in-tennessee

Sometimes statistical analysis doesn’t trump cold hard facts.

Vthestate March 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

ID laws may not effect many potential voters….i wonder …with the vote count anomalies
and startling lack access to voting machines …as in Ohio and Florida the last few election
presidential …who will attempt to look at the larger issue of fairness of elections…… Lordy i don’t think many in the GOP are howling for an open investigation…

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