Politics & Policy

No, Hillary, Voter-ID Laws Don’t ‘Suppress’ Turnout

Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign event in Milwaukee, Wisc., March 2016. (Reuters photo: Jim Young)
Mrs. Clinton maligns Wisconsin’s effort to protect the integrity of its elections in an attempt to excuse her own fatally flawed campaign.

Hillary Clinton just doesn’t know how to lose gracefully. She does, however, have a knack for coming up with ever more inventive excuses for her loss to Donald Trump.

Just last month, she chalked it up to “voter suppression” in Wisconsin. This spurious claim was a reference to the Badger State’s common-sense voter-ID law, which has been upheld by the courts. It followed on the heels of a tweet from Wisconsin’s Democratic senator, Tammy Baldwin, claiming the law had reduced voter turnout by 200,000 statewide.

Both claims relied on a study commissioned by Priorities USA Action and conducted by CIVIS USA, two liberal groups that actively supported Clinton’s presidential bid. Unfortunately for Clinton and Baldwin, though, the study has been roundly debunked.

Politifact rated Baldwin’s claim as “Mostly False,” asserting that “experts . . . question the methodology of the report and say there is no way to put a number on how many people in Wisconsin didn’t vote because of the ID requirement.”

While it is true that 2016 saw Wisconsin’s turnout drop from 2012, it is also true that the state still experienced higher turnout than in 2008, before the voter-ID law was passed. Moreover, according to the U.S. Elections Project, Wisconsin had the fifth-highest turnout rate in the country, far higher than that of many states with no ID requirement. 69.4 percent of the state’s eligible voters showed up to the polls, far surpassing the national average of 59.3 percent and the 56.8 percent rate in Clinton’s home state of New York, where there is no voter-ID law.

Wisconsin’s turnout decrease from 2012 is just as likely, or more likely, attributable to a natural regression from its unusually high 2012 turnout rate. President Obama’s high-powered turnout operation, coupled with Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan being on the GOP ticket, would easily explain the 2012 surge in statewide voter turnout. Hillary Clinton’s ineffective campaign, her decision not to visit the state, and the general leftward shift of the Democratic party may also have dampened enthusiasm for her candidacy.

Democrats have generally admitted that they failed to connect with blue-collar workers in 2016. In fact, their party chairman, Tom Perez, has organized a year-long outreach program to try to rectify the problem. Unfortunately for Democrats, these voters are highly concentrated in Rust Belt states, such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, that proved especially susceptible to Trump’s economic message. None of those states saw any increase in voter turnout, but it wasn’t because of voter-ID laws, which vary widely among them; it was because Clinton failed to rally their working-class voters to her side, convinced that she could rely on Obama’s winning coalition from 2008 and 2012 to put her over the top.

The problem with that strategy was two-fold: (1) The voters of the Obama coalition make up disproportionately high percentages of state populations in already deep-blue states such as New York and California; and (2) they were not nearly as enthusiastic about Clinton as they had been about Obama. FiveThirtyEight’s David Wasserman warned last September that the demographic groups the Clinton campaign was targeting were concentrated in non-swing states. The Clinton campaign failed to heed that warning.

In fact, turnout data from 2012 and 2016 do not show any “voter suppression” because of ID requirements. Nine of the eleven states that have implemented so-called strict ID Laws either saw an increase in turnout or exceeded the national average in turnout in 2016. Two of them, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, finished in the top five nationally. Meanwhile only two of the 17 states plus Washington, D.C., that have no ID requirement finished among the top five.

In short, there is no credible evidence that voter-ID laws have impeded turnout, especially among minorities and Democrats, as their opponents suggest.

The debunked Wisconsin study is, unfortunately, not alone in misusing the data for political gain. A January 2017 study by three professors from the University of California San Diego and Bucknell University — frequently referenced in liberal media outlets — is another unfortunate example. The study erroneously claims that voter-ID laws have a disparate impact on minorities and “diminish the participation of Democrats and those on the left, while doing little to deter the vote of Republicans and those on the right.” This sensational finding generated a media storm, with the help of several opinion pieces from the authors making the politically charged (and false) claim that voter-ID laws “lower minority turnout and benefit the Republican Party.”

But these claims, too, were recently debunked by a group of professors from Yale, Stanford, and the University of Pennsylvania. Upon examining the data in the original study, the group found “no definitive relationship between strict voter ID laws and turnout.” It also found that the original study contained measurement errors, omitted-variable bias, and misinterpreted data.

In reality, then, such studies are designed to obscure the truth. The Heritage Foundation has published numerous papers looking at turnout data in states that implemented voter-ID laws. All of those studies show that ID requirements do not keep voters from the polls, and that some states have even seen increases in turnout after their ID laws went into effect. A University of Missouri study found that Indiana’s turnout increased 2 percent after its voter-ID law was implemented, with no negative impact on minority voters in particular, and increased turnout for Democrats as a whole. Yet another study, this one by the University of Delaware and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, found that at both the aggregate and individual levels, voter-ID laws did not affect turnout across racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic lines during the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 elections.

In short, there is no credible evidence that voter-ID laws have impeded turnout, especially among minorities and Democrats, as their opponents suggest. Meanwhile, a Heritage Foundation database tracking documented voter fraud now contains 492 cases and 773 criminal convictions, with untold other cases unreported and unprosecuted.

It is thus more important than ever that we implement voter-ID laws, while also taking steps to prevent non-citizens and individuals registered in multiple states from voting. Across the country, as Heritage’s database shows, voter-fraud convictions include everything from impersonation fraud and false registrations to ineligible voting by felons and non-citizens. American voter fraud continues apace, and the United States remains one of the only democracies in the world without a uniform requirement for voter identification.

Ax-grinding politicians such as Clinton and Baldwin will doubtless continue to malign ID laws. But their spurious claims have not dissuaded state officials from trying to protect the integrity of their elections. Most recently, Arkansas instituted a law that requires voters to either show an ID when they vote or cast a provisional ballot and provide ID by the Monday after the election. After a long and contentious court battle, Texas recently amended its voter-ID law to require either photo ID or other documents listing the voter’s name and address. And even as Clinton was losing at the polls, Missouri voters last year overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that allows the state to require voters to prove they are whom they say they are when they vote, reversing a faulty decision by the state’s Supreme Court.

It is vital that states not let the politically expedient, dubious claims of Democrats hamper the important task of securing our elections’ integrity. Otherwise, our ability to function as a democratic republic will be imperiled.


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