The new Democratic majority is making a major push to outlaw states from asking their voters to show ID at the polls, arguing that such laws push minorities and older people from voting.
According to a major new study, they’re wrong — strict voter ID laws have no significant effect on voter turnout, don’t keep interested voters from being able to vote, and for that matter don’t prevent them from registering.
But at the same time the laws also don’t appear to boost confidence in the voting system, the study concluded, undercutting the reasons some conservatives are eager to pass such laws.
“The bottom line is that we don’t find much of an effect either on participation or voter fraud,” said Vincent Pons, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School and a research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research, which posted the new study this month.
He and co-author Enrico Cantoni, of the University of Bologna in Italy, looked at 1.3 billion data points across five U.S. federal elections, including people who voted, people who registered but didn’t vote, and people who are eligible but not registered.
They said that was critical to figuring out whether people without ID were discouraged from even registering — something that’s not captured in many other studies.
Their main data on voter participation came from Catalist, a political data vendor that sells its information to liberal organizations. They were able to look at the same people across time, and concluded no discernible changes to registration or voting patterns for states that went to voter ID.
They also used studies of voter perceptions, and two different data sets of voter fraud, to evaluate opinions on election integrity, and found no changes in the levels of reported fraud, nor in voters’ belief in the election process in states where voter ID was enacted.
“I would probably put my energy and effort into things other than voter identification laws,” Mr. Cantoni said.
The findings could help derail at least part of House Democrats marquee voting legislation, H.R. 1, dubbed the For the People Act. It envisions a major new set of federal rules for conducting elections such as automatic and same-day voter registration, restoration of felon voting rights, expanded early voting and mail-in voting, and allowing people to vote by sworn affidavit rather than showing ID.
Several House committees are engaged in a battery of hearings on the law, with another one slated for Thursday in the House Administration Committee.
Democrats, in announcing H.R. 1, said requiring identification at the polls is discriminatory.
Voting rights activists point to rulings in North Carolina and Texas where judges found they punished minorities and others who disproportionately lack access to acceptable IDs.
But Logan Churchwell at the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a voter integrity group, said turnout set modern records for a midterm election last year, even with 34 states enforcing voter ID laws. He said the new report confirms that.
“The voter disenfranchisement allegations were always a smokescreen,” he said. “Voter ID laws signaled to the organized left years ago that an unwelcome guest was now kicking around its sandbox and had popular ideas to boot. They were so desperate to maintain a monopoly, they latched onto claims that minorities were naturally less capable of obtaining IDs or following new laws for voting purposes.”
Mr. Churchwell acknowledged that voter ID laws “will never be a cure-all” for integrity concerns. Noncitizens can legally obtain valid identification and sometimes manage to illegally register to vote at motor vehicle bureaus, for example.
But he said voter ID is a “final line of defense” against mistakes or mischief.
The Washington Times reached out to several high-profile voting-rights advocacy groups. One had nobody available to comment, and others — including the League of Women Voters — didn’t respond.
Voter ID is rather common elsewhere in the world. Mexico requires a photo ID, while in Canada either a photo ID or two other forms of identification are required. Britain is in the midst of implementing an ID requirement.
When Foreign Policy magazine visited polling places with foreign elections observers in 2012, the observers told the magazine’s reporter they were stunned at the level of trust between election officials and voters.
In countries such as Australia, which doesn’t have a national ID requirement, the debate sounds very much like the U.S., with integrity advocates saying ID is a must, and access activists saying they fear people would be discouraged.
Mr. Pons and Mr. Cantoni said they don’t expect their work to be the final word, but said they did bring a new empirical test to the equation.
“I find it a bit surprising this debate became so polarized in the United States without having a chance to look at the evidence,” Mr. Cantoni said.
They said their previous research shows there are better ways to increase voter participation, such as having more polling places closer to where voters live.
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