Political Issues

Voter ID Laws Are Discriminatory, and a New Study Proves It

Kara Jillian Brown

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Photo: Getting Images / Bloomberg Creative

Prior to 2006, no one in this country needed to provide valid identification in order to vote. Now, 36 states have voter ID laws in place. Some argue that the laws help prevent voter fraud, but a new study proves that voter ID laws are discriminatory.  Zoltan Hajnal, PhD, co-author and a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, says that these laws disproportionately reduce voter turnout in more racially diverse areas.

“The voices of racial and ethnic minorities are suppressed or muted in states that have these laws,” says Dr. Hajnal. “So Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans are going to have less of a say and that could determine the outcome of a tight election.”

The study, published June 4 in the journal Politics, Groups, and Identities, examined turnout changes across the two most recent presidential elections in 2012 and 2016. Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, and Wisconsin all implemented strict voter photo ID laws. They defined “strict” as laws that require voters to present identification before their ballot will be officially counted. Eleven states currently have strict voter ID laws.

“We collected data on turnout in every county in the United States over two elections,” says Dr. Hajnal. “We then compared turnout changes in states that enacted a new strict ID law with changes in states that did not enact a new law. We found that turnout in more racially diverse counties fell faster relative to turnout in less racially diverse counties in those states that had implemented strict ID laws then in other similar states. In essence, racial and ethnic minorities fell further behind when strict voter ID laws were introduced.”

Hajnal said this research came out of concern about the possible consequences fo these laws.

“[These laws] are relatively new and yet have already been introduced in so many states,” says Dr. Hajnal. “Moreover, there is a strong sense that they are targeting racial and ethnic minorities but the limited studies that have been done so far haven’t reached a definitive conclusion.” He says this study makes a significant advance because “it uses official turnout data and a simple but sophisticated research design.”

The fraud that these laws supposedly prevent is far from substantial. Research of Loyola University found that between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 credible allegations that “someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix.” And 2017 research on the 2016 general election shows that, in the jurisdictions studied, of 23.5 million votes only 30 are estimated to have been cast by noncitizens.

The next step to address voter ID laws is in the courts, says Dr. Hajnal. In February, North Carolina’s Court of Appeals blocked the state’s new voter ID law from taking effect. As of May 2014, more than half of the states that enacted voter ID laws have seen at least one legal while and some faced up to four. “They need to decide whether laws that disproportionately negatively impact racial minorities can still be considered to be constitutional,” says Hajnal.

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