STUDY: Voter ID Laws Are Fantastic at Keeping People of Color Away From the Polls

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 03, 2016

Activists have long argued that strict voter identification laws—like the ones in nine states, including Texas, Mississippi and Virginia—are effectively suppression actions aimed at making it difficult for people of color to cast their votes. And a new study says that they are right.

“Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes” (note that this is an early version of the study, and the ThinkProgress story referenced below cites updated numbers that are inclusive of 2014 voter turnout) is the work of researchers Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson. It draws on data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to examine voter turnout statistics in states with strict photo identification laws versus those that don’t require a photo ID. As ThinkProgress reports, there were substantial differences. Per the study: 

The analysis shows that strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections. Voter ID laws skew democracy in favor of Whites and those on the political right.

“We’ve overcome and eradicated many of the egregious barriers to minority participation,” Hajnal, lead researcher and University of California, San Diego political science professor, told ThinkProgress. “We’ve come a long way, but these kinds of laws represent another avenue through which minority voices can be muted.”

Key takeaways from the study, per the updated numbers reported by ThinkProgress:

On primary election turnout: “A strict ID law could be expected to depress Latino turnout by 9.3 points, Black turnout by 8.6 points, and Asian American turnout by 12.5 points.”

On the gap between White turnout compared to that of POC: “For Latinos in the general election, the predicted gap more than doubles from 4.9 points in states without strict ID laws to 13.5 points in states with strict photo ID laws.” The gap widens by 2.2 points for Blacks and 5 points for Asian Americans.

On the political impact: “Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 8.8 percentage points in general elections when strict photo identification laws are in place.” That is significantly higher than the 3.6 point drop among Republican voters. And when it comes to people who identify strongly with each ideology, the change is more significant: “For strong liberals the estimated drop in turnout in strict photo identification states is an alarming 7.9 percentage points. By contrast, strong conservatives actually vote at a slightly higher rate—4.8 points—in strict ID states, all else equal.”