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Professor Dan Tokaji
Election reform, the Voting Rights Act, the Help America Vote Act, and related topics -- with special attention to the voting rights of people of color, non-English proficient citizens, and people with disabilities

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Equal Vote
Thursday, February 22
Voter ID and Turnout
Yesterday's N.Y. Times had this story on a study from researchers at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute, prepared in conjunction with the Moritz College of Law. This follows a story earlier in the week in USA Today on the same study. (Disclosure: I'm part of the team that worked on this project.)

The exclusionary effect of some ID laws arises from the fact that a significant number of citizens don't have government-issued photo ID. Previous research suggests that some groups of voters -- including people of color, poor voters, and elderly voters -- are likely to be disproportionately affected, since they're less likely to have driver's licenses. There's been limited research so far, however, on exactly how ID requirements affect different groups of voters.

The study was prepared under a contract for the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), and Eagleton researchers presented findings at a public EAC meeting on February 8. As far as I can tell, however, the EAC hasn't yet publicly released the study, so I won't comment on its specific contents here, beyond what's been reported. Two of the Eagleton researchers did release a separate paper on the impact of voter ID in the fall, which I blogged on here.

It's important to remember that this research relies on 2004 data. That was before strict photo ID requirements were passed in Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri. Georgia's and Missouri's were both enjoined by state courts, but Indiana's took effect in the 2006 election season. The USA Today reports that Indiana's voter turnout increased in 2% of the 2006 election compared to the last mid-term election (2002). It would be wrong to conclude from this statistic that Indiana's ID law didn't affect turnout, since there are lots of other factors that can affect turnout. The real trick in this research is to try to isolate the effect of voter ID laws by controlling for those other factors, which is what the Eagleton researchers have attempted to do.

The USA Today report also groups Florida with Indiana as a state that has a photo ID requirement. While this is partly true, Florida's law is different in a significant respect from those which were enacted in Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri. It's true that Florida requires voters to show a photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot. But voters who don't have such an ID can still cast provisional ballots. Fla Stat. 101.043. As I read Florida's statute, those provisional ballots should be counted if the person was "registered and entitled to vote" and the signature given at the time of voting matches that on the voter's registration. Fla. Stat. 101.048. Florida's law is therefore significantly less restrictive than that which is in place in Indiana -- voters without ID can still vote and have their votes counted. One would therefore expect Florida's law to have a lesser impact on turnout.

We clearly need more empirical research on voter ID's impact. That includes more research on the the extent to which voter ID laws affect turnout. It also includes research on the extent to which there is voting fraud that would be prevented or detected by a photo ID law. My friend Spencer Overton effectively makes this point in his article on Voter Identification, forthcoming in the Michigan Law Review. Absent documentation that there's a significant amount of fraud that a photo ID requirement would stop, and that eligible voters won't be impeded from voting by such a requirement, it's a bad idea to pass laws like those enacted in Georgia, Indiana, and Missouri.

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Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University