The ink was barely dry on the Supreme Court’s decision in the Crawford case upholding Indiana’s voter-identification law before the editorial pages were filled with dire predictions of the mass disenfranchisement of voters. The New York Times thundered that “disadvantaged groups” would be “discouraged from casting ballots.” Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal Constitution insulted the author of the lead opinion, staunchly liberal Justice John Paul Stevens, writing that it was no surprise that “a group of wealthy male jurists favors suppression of the franchise…[a]fter all, the Founding Fathers believed that only white men should have the vote.” She must have been truly dismayed last year when Georgia’s voter-ID law was also upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court and a federal court, and was even praised in Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in Crawford.
Justice Stevens, who came of age professionally in Chicago, where voter fraud has been endemic for decades, held that requiring voters to show ID is justified by the interest in deterring and detecting voter fraud and preserving public confidence in the election process. However, the critical editorials have repeated the same specious arguments made in both the Indiana and Georgia voter-ID cases — there are supposedly hundreds of thousands of voters who don’t have a photo ID (and can’t obtain one), and thus the turnout of voters (particularly minorities) will be diminished.
Unfortunately for the naysayers, the facts, as opposed to paranoid fantasies conjured up by lawyers and editorial writers, don’t support those claims. Both trial judges in the Indiana and Georgia cases rejected as incredible and utterly unreliable the claim that there were hundreds of thousands of voters without photo ID. In two years of litigation, lawyers were unable, as the Indiana judge noted, to introduce “evidence of a single, individual Indiana resident who will be unable to vote” as a result of the photo-ID law. In Georgia, the ACLU sent out a desperate e-mail asking their contacts to find an individual who could not vote because of the voter-ID requirement — but they could not find one. And none of the organizations like the NAACP that sued could produce a single member unable to vote. The Georgia court found that the failure to identify any such individuals was “particularly acute in light of Plaintiffs’ contention that a large number of Georgia voters lack acceptable Photo ID.”
The Supreme Court’s decision is bolstered by recent academic studies that show voter turnout (including that of minorities) is unaffected by voter-ID laws. A national study of voting behavior from 2000 to 2006 by scholars at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Delaware concluded that concern over such laws hurting the turnout of voters was “much ado about nothing.” The Heritage Foundation’s review of the 2004 election found that voter-ID laws do not reduce voter turnout, including of Hispanics and African Americans. A 2007 survey of 36,500 individuals by M.I.T. found overwhelming support for voter ID across ethnic and racial lines, and only 23 people out of the entire 36,500 person sample could not vote because of ID requirements. A study by John Lott found evidence that regulations preventing fraud “can actually increase the voter participation rate,” showing how ID requirements encourage public confidence in the voting process as noted by Justice Stevens.
Recent election results in Georgia and Indiana also show the fallacy of these criticisms. In her editorial, Cynthia Tucker completely ignored what actually happened in February when Georgia held its first presidential preference primary with the photo-ID law in effect. The state had a record turnout of over 2 million voters, almost one million more than in its 2004 primary before the ID requirement was in effect. Voters who did not have any ID were less than 0.01 percent. The number of black Georgians who voted more than doubled from the 2004 election and there were 100,000 more votes cast in the Democratic than the Republican primary.
Indiana’s turnout in its initial elections after the photo-ID law went into effect went up two percent overall. A study by the University of Missouri found no evidence that turnout of minority, poor, elderly, or less-educated populations was reduced, and in fact, the “only consistent and statistically significant impact of photo ID in Indiana is to increase voter turnout in counties with a greater percentage of Democrats relative to other counties.” When Indiana held its presidential primary on May 6, the turnout of Democratic voters quadrupled over 2004 and over 862,000 more votes were cast in the Democratic than the Republican primary. If this was some kind of plot by Republicans to hurt Democratic turnout as critics have alleged, it did not work very well.