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What effect did Voter ID laws in North Dakota and 33 other states have on the election?

America’s ‘broad experiment’

At the least, however, the country is in the midst of a broad experiment with voting restrictions at a time of already depressed voting rates. The trend is likely to accelerate with the 2016 election, when new hurdles are scheduled to go into effect and with Republicans taking control of nine new state legislative chambers on Election Day. Nevada, where the party flipped both houses, may become the latest state with a photo ID law.

Republican activists dispute the argument that ID laws limit voting and say Democrats are sounding the alarm to inspire their base. The issue is complicated because academic efforts to measure if restrictive laws depress turnout have produced mixed results. …

Voting rights advocates argue that the test of restrictive laws should not be how they affect turnout in any given election or even whether they swing individual elections, but simply whether they disenfranchise any voters.

“Wholly apart from the question whether there’s going to be any demonstrable effect on turnout or election outcomes, there’s a real harm here,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “Nobody should be denied the right to vote who’s eligible, absent good reason.”

The New York Times

Nov. 18

Why voter ID laws don’t swing many elections

Voter ID laws might well be a cynical, anti-democratic attempt to disenfranchise voters to help Republicans, as Democrats claim. But that doesn’t mean that voter ID laws are an effective way to steal elections. They just don’t make a difference in anything but the closest contests, when anything and everything matters.

These figures overstate the number of voters who truly lack identification. Those without ID are particularly unlikely to vote. And many who do vote will vote Republican.

In the end, the seemingly vast registration gaps dwindle, leaving enough voters to decide only elections determined by fractions of a point. …

The impact of voter ID laws is basically indiscernible in the results. Democrats have pulled off impressive wins in states with voter ID, including perhaps the single most impressive electoral feat of the last decade: President Obama’s victory in Indiana in 2008, which came just after the state passed a voter ID law.

Voter disenfranchisement is anti-democratic, regardless of whether it swings elections. But voter ID laws haven’t been swinging elections.

Nate Cohn

The New York Times

Nov. 19

It’s wrong to block eligible voters, period

In “Why voter ID laws don’t swing many elections,” Nate Cohn understates the impact of restrictive voting laws. Yes, it is likely rare for an election to be close enough for voter ID laws to swing the outcome. But Americans should indeed be concerned about laws that shut out thousands of eligible voters.

Voter ID laws present a threat to democracy because they stop individuals — like Ms. Sammie Louise BatesMr. Eulalio Mendez, Jr.Mr. Calvin Carrier and many more — from exercising their right to vote. The numbers from the Texas photo ID case and other states illustrate the extent of this threat — and why it is wrong to pass laws that block some eligible Americans from voting.

Jennifer Clark

Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law

Nov. 25

Strike these noxious laws from the books

None of this justifies the cynical Republican effort to suppress voting via ID laws. For one thing, they still matter in close elections. For another, the simple fact that they deliberately target minority voters is noxious — and this is very much not ameliorated by the common Republican defense that the real reason they’re targeted isn’t race related. It’s because they vote for Democrats. If anything, that makes it worse. Republicans are knowingly making it harder for blacks and Hispanics to vote because they vote for the wrong people. I’m not sure how much more noxious a voter suppression effort can be.

These laws should be stricken from the books, lock, stock and extremely smoking barrel. They don’t prevent voter fraud, and they have no purpose except to suppress the votes of targeted groups. The evidence on this point is now clear enough that the Supreme Court should revisit its 2008 decision in Crawford v. Marion that upheld strict voter ID laws. They have no place in a decent society.

At the same time, if you’re wondering how much actual effect they have, the answer is probably not much. We still don’t have any definitive academic studies on this point, I think, but Cohn makes a pretty good case. It’s possible that Kay Hagan might have lost her Senate race this year thanks to voter ID laws, but she’s probably the only one.

Kevin Drum

Nov. 19

Do ID requirements hurt turnout? Doubtful

Looking across all 21 states with competitive elections, Maine had the highest turnout, with 63 percent. Maine has no ID requirement and allows voters to register on Election Day. But next up were states with ID laws: New Hampshire and Alaska — though in Alaska, an election official can waive the requirement if he or she knows the voter.

None of this disproves the theory that voter ID laws suppress turnout, but nor does it lend any credence to it. It does suggest, however, that just as conservatives have oversold the need for ID laws by playing up fears of voter fraud (which is extremely rare), liberals may be overhyping the impact the laws are having on voter turnout.

There are many reasons people don’t vote. In a recent poll by the Pew Research Center of nonvoters, 87 percent of respondents said they were too busy to do so, unhappy with their choices or otherwise indifferent. Ten percent cited a missed registration deadline, a recent move or a lack of transportation. Lack of ID did not register in the poll. …

There is no doubt that partisan motivations are driving the Republican push for ID laws, which make voting harder than it needs to be for some. But it’s not at all clear that such laws are giving Republicans any meaningful advantage by suppressing turnout.

Democrats believe that the higher the turnout, the better their chances of winning elections. If they hope to increase turnout in future elections, they would do well to spend more time motivating voters and less time bemoaning ID laws.

Frances Barry


Dec. 3

Dems, GOP disagree on underlying problem

The voter ID debate isn’t going anywhere.

The issue is largely a state-by-state one. Generally, Republicans rise to control in certain states and pass legislation, and then liberal and minority groups and supporters sue to overturn. And with the GOP obtaining full control of even more states after the 2014 election — they now have 24 — more states could look at such laws in the near future.

So where do the American people stand? Well, on the surface, polls show they are overwhelmingly in favor of the concept of presenting identification before voting. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a pretty deep divide on the basis for such laws.

new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute asked people which they thought was a bigger problem: voter fraud or voter disenfranchisement. Forty percent of Americans said the former, while 43 percent said the latter — about an even split.

And as you might expect, there’s a pretty big partisan split. While 68 percent of Republicans say ineligible voters casting ballots is a bigger problem, 64 percent of Democrats say eligible voters being denied the ability to do so is the prevailing issue. …

Of course, it’s no news flash that Republicans and Democrats disagree about policy. What makes the voter ID battle so interesting is that they don’t even agree on the underlying problem — or alleged problem — that is being addressed.

And even something that might not seem like an inherently partisan issue has become one.

Aaron Blake

The Washington Post

Nov. 17

Wanted: A constitutional amendment

Between these two positions, there is a compromise, and it takes the shape of a constitutional amendment. In truth, it wouldn’t be hard to write one that would please both sides.

Any mediator will tell you that the best way to approach a disagreement is to ascertain what each side really desires. Republicans say they wish to prevent voter fraud and save state taxpayer money. Democrats say they wish to make it as easy as possible for qualified people to vote. Here is a potential solution that strives to achieve all of the major goals. A new constitutional amendment might state:

“Citizens hold the right to cast their ballots in a national election for a period of seven days, concluding with the first Tuesday in November. A state may extend to an earlier date this voting period. A voter must show a valid identification document in order to vote, but each state must provide a voter with a reminder, when registering to vote, of the identification requirement. Each state must make available, without charge at registration, an identification document for its citizens. The federal government will reimburse states for the costs of the identification documents and for the costs of operating the polling places during the seven-day voting period.”

Under this new system, states that wish to be relatively tight with their voter requirements (probably Republican ones) would meet the national minimum and no more. … On the other hand, states that prefer looser voting laws (probably Democratic ones) could pay more from their own coffers to offer more days of voting. These states also could spend state money to educate voters about the importance of remembering their free IDs at the polls and to help pay for van rides and the like to help the elderly and disabled get to the polls.

By this system of federalism, we would ensure that voter identity fraud would be extremely difficult and that people wouldn’t be turned away from the voting booths because they can’t afford a driver’s license. …

There are precedents for changing our foundational legal document to making voting fairer and easier. The 24th Amendment, ratified in 1964, abolished local taxes on voting. In 1971, the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age to 18.

A new amendment on voting would be the new millennium’s contribution. Fitting with the times, it would make life easier, save local governments money and avoid an unfunded mandate. Most of all, it would take a great step toward ensuring, as the Constitution proclaims, that our nation is indeed a republic.

Paul Boudreaux

The Washington Post

Nov. 4

Boudreaux teaches at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport and Tampa, Fla.