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Law & the Courts

If Voter ID Laws Don’t Make a Difference, Why Are They So Horrible?

Yesterday I wrote against the hysterical notion that voter ID laws and other forms of conservative-advanced vote reforms are somehow creating a voter suppression “crisis” or that they’re “rigging” the election. As a matter of law and logic, voter ID laws or limits on early voting hardly take us back to the bad old days and — in fact — have little to no effect on actual vote totals. It turns out that German Lopez at Vox actually agrees with me. Well, at least regarding the effect of the laws:

Despite Republican legislators’ best attempts to suppress minority voters, study after study has found that voter ID laws have little to no effect on voter turnout. At worst, the effect is small — barely detectable even in studies that employ multiple controls. At best, there’s no effect at all or even an increase.


So while voter ID laws probably hit Democratic and minority voters a little harder than their Republican and white counterparts, we’re really talking about a small effect here. These laws could only swing the closest of elections, when basically everything matters.

In fact, none of the other voting restrictions enacted by states seem to have much of an effect on voting either. Researchers have found, for example, mixed effects on whether early voting increases turnout, with one recent study finding that it actually decreased turnout on net if voters couldn’t register to vote and cast their ballot on the same day.

No study has the final word, but the research is all inconclusive enough to suggest that practical barriers to voting have a fairly small effect on whether people actually vote.

It’s not hard to discern why these laws don’t truly suppress turnout. It’s not hard to get an ID or to vote on election day. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy — with 99.99 percent of voters enduring nothing more onerous than a long line. But none of this stops Lopez from waxing eloquent about GOP perfidy:

There is little doubt at this point that voter ID laws are discriminatory. Many Republicans, who have pushed these laws in recent years, have admitted as much. Studies show the laws have a disproportionate impact on black and brown voters. And there is a very long history of voter suppression against black voters in the US. All of this adds up to what’s fairly described as a constitutional crisis depriving people of their most fundamental democratic right.

But if you check Lopez’s sources, here’s what’s happening — a few Republicans admit to changing laws that seem to disproportionately benefit Democrats (for example, Democrats have often taken greater advantage of early voting). Others seem to believe that voter fraud is more widespread than it is. So they pass laws that impose the most minimal inconveniences in the real world and expect them to have an outsized effect — in large part because they have their own outsized view of Democratic perfidy. Talk to many GOP lawmakers and activists and you’ll find them just as convinced that Democrats win elections through large-scale vote fraud as many Democratic lawmakers and activists are convinced that the GOP seeks to win elections through large-scale voter suppression. 

So Democrats stand for the fictional mass of no-ID eligible voters, while Republicans stand against the fictional mass of no-ID ineligible voters. And all the while they convince themselves of the other side’s worst motives. But since both ballot integrity and ballot access are important, why not require the showing of an ID while making ID’s free and easy to obtain? There’s no meaningful barrier to voting, and the fraud that does exist is made more difficult. I’m no populist, but count me in the 80 percent — voter identification is a good idea. 


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