The real purpose of Voter ID

“Integrity of elections” my ass.  If you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.  How about this (nicely shared in chart form by Drum):

Voter turnout was reduced by 2-3 percentage points in both states. But of course there’s more to the story. Some groups were more strongly affected than others. Here are the results for Kansas:

Age. In Kansas, the turnout effect among registrants who were 18 years old in 2008 was 7.1 percentage points larger in size than the turnout effect among registrants between the ages of 44 and 53.

….Race or ethnicity. We estimate that turnout was reduced among African-American registrants by 3.7 percentage points more than among Whites in Kansas.

….Length of registration. In Kansas, the reduction in turnout for people registered to vote within 1 year prior to Election Day 2008 was 5.2 percentage points larger in size than for people registered to vote for 20 years or longer prior to Election Day 2008.

Victory! Turnout plummeted among blacks, young people, and college students. What more could an enterprising Republican legislature want?

Oh, and, um, maybe voter fraud was reduced. The Kansas Secretary of State responded to a draft of the GAO report by explaining that “if lower overall turnout occurs after implementation of a photo ID law, some of the decrease may be attributable to the prevention of fraudulent votes.” You betcha.

And from a strongly-worded (and rightly so) Op-Ed in the N&O:

The Supreme Court’s disappointing ruling against reinstating same-day registration and counting out-of-precinct votes serves as a stark reminder that it is time for everyone outraged by the ongoing war against voting to call this coordinated attack for what it is: dishonest, unjust and racist. Harsh words, perhaps, but the shoe fits. [emphasis mine]

The rationale for voting restrictions is restoring public confidence in the integrity of our elections. The problem is that reasons to lack confidence in their integrity have been fabricated, largely out of whole cloth. Major studies have repeatedly failed to unearth anything other than infinitesimal evidence of voter fraud, and states defending their laws restricting voting rights – including North Carolina – have not brought forward evidence to support their claims that it is a problem.

We’ve heard the quotation, attributed to Vladmir Lenin, that a lie told often enough becomes the truth. Anyone who pays attention to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh or most of the Republican delegations in Raleigh and Washington has heard one conspiracy theory after another for years now about how Democrats are out to steal elections, and these stories often revolve around the inherent political corruption in urban areas with high percentages of voters of color. It’s easy to understand why folks are nervous about rigged elections when the likelihood of them is promoted as inevitable and sold as if they reflect an inherent flaw in the character of a substantial percentage of the electorate.

Given the opportunity, the North Carolina legislature restricted opportunities to vote in-person, where evidence of fraud is virtually non-existent, and did not restrict opportunities to vote absentee, where evidence of actual fraud has persisted for decades. The difference is that allowing early voting, same-day registration and counting ballots cast out-of-precinct are more likely to boost African-American turnout, which is more Democratic, while absentee voting boosts white turnout, which is more Republican.

Voting is not a partisan matter. It’s the cornerstone of democracy. In its zeal for reducing voting among groups it mistrusts, our legislature even discontinued pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. Raise your hand if you think that getting young people signed up to vote is a bad idea.

And spare me your “but you need an ID to … why not to vote.”  Because we have not had problems with in-person voter fraud under the current regime and because requiring that ID disproportionately affects minority groups in electoral representation.  That’s why.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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