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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

 

So many states, so many votes to suppress

by Tom Sullivan

The Iowa caucuses are over. The pollsters are licking their wounds. Donald Trump met his Waterloo, writes Joan Walsh, bested by Ted Cruz. Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are in a tie so close that several precincts resorted to a coin toss, "one of many oddities of the Iowa caucuses."

What that means is upcoming primaries and the even general election could feel the impact of new voter ID laws in place for their first presidential election. A recent study begins to support that despite assurances to the contrary that they do indeed have a discriminatory effect. More on that in a minute.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio thinks voter purges, long lines at the polls, and voter ID laws are no big deal. Ari Berman writes that the GOP is now the party of Ted Cruz, who championed Texas' strict voter ID law and, as Texas' solicitor general, filed a brief in support of Indiana's ID law that argued “there is no right to be free from any inconvenience or burden in voting.” The GOP has erected hurdles to voting in state after state as though democracy is a track and field event.

Berman observes,

It was only a decade ago that George W. Bush signed a 25-year reauthorization of the VRA—which had been approved 390–33 in the House and 98–0 in the Senate—but it feels like a century has passed. Today, critics of the VRA, who used to be a minority in the GOP, are now the vocal majority.

Former RNC chair Michael Steele called it "a slap in the face of those Republicans who fought for the law and those Republicans who fought for civil rights since Reconstruction.”

Throughout the expansion in these laws, proponents look into cameras and tell the public they are about "election integrity" or "ballot security." Or about restoring confidence in an election system they have spent years systematically undermining, crying voter fraud to build public support for new voting restrictions. And it's no, nay, never, are these new "common sense" rules meant to discriminate against American citizens who tend to vote for Democrats.

North Carolina's voter ID law is still in the courts, but will be in force for the March 15 primary. Writing in the Raleigh news and Observer on Sunday, Ned Barnett argued:

Republican legislators say they passed the photo ID requirement to prevent people from representing themselves as someone else at the polls. They’ve shown no evidence that this is a problem, but they love the ease of defending their solution – it’s common sense. Cue the checks, planes and medications.

Behind that seemingly harmless rationale is a subtle and unspoken Republican motive: A surprisingly high number of people don’t have a driver’s license or an acceptable alternative photo ID. And many of them are low-income and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic.

Barnett suggests it is because North Carolina Republican leaders are really afraid of American voters. "How do we know? It’s common sense."

A study from the University of California, San Diego offers support for Barnett's common sense. Using a 50,000 person validated vote in the Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, the authors eliminate the skew from self-reporting of voting. "Self-reported turnout averages about 25 percent higher than actual turnout," they write. They looked for differential effects of ID laws on voting among different groups, beyond simple aggregate numbers of votes. The authors find that "strict voter identification laws do, in fact, substantially alter the makeup of who votes and ultimately do skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right."

All of this has major political consequences. As Figure 2 illustrates the rate at which Republicans and conservatives outvote Democrats and liberals is much higher when strict photo laws are in place. All else equal, Republicans and conservatives tend to vote at slightly higherrates than Democrats and liberals but that gaps grows considerably in strict photo ID states. In particular, in general elections, the model predicts that the turnout gap between Republicans and Democrats doubles from 2.3 points to 5.6 points when strict photo ID laws are instituted. Likewise the predicted gap between conservatives and liberals more than doubles from 4.7 to12.6 points. In primaries, the gains associated with stricter voter ID laws are even moredramatic. The turnout advantage of those on the right is three to five times larger in strict photo identification states, all else equal. These results suggest that by instituting strict photo ID laws, states could minimize the influence of voters on the left and could dramatically alter the political leaning of the electorate

Furthermore,

The analysis suggests that strict ID laws of any sort do impact the racial balance of the electorate. Working through the effects of the significant interactions, we find that the gap in turnout between Latinos and whites is estimated to grow by 13.3 points in strict non-photo ID states. Likewise the gap between Blacks and whites is 7.4 points higher in strict non-photo ID states all else equal. The pattern of estimated effects for primary elections is nearly identical. Inprimaries with strict non-photo laws, Latinos fall a further 14.2 points behind whites and Blacksend up 11.4 points further behind whites, according to the model. Requiring identification of anysort appears to have a real effect on who votes and who does not. These laws hurt the minority community and help to give whites an outsized voice in American democracy.

The effects of voter ID laws are concerning in isolation. But they are perhaps even more alarming when viewed across the longer arc of American history. The effects of voter ID lawsthat we see here are eerily similar to the impact of measures like poll taxes, literacy tests,residency requirements, and at-large elections which were used by the white majority decadesand centuries ago to help deny blacks many basic rights (Keyssar 2009, Kousser 1999, Parker1990, Filer, Kenny and Morton 1991). The measures of old and current voter ID laws todayremain eerily similar: they were both instituted by advocates who claimed they would help toensure the integrity and legitimacy of democracy. Both sets of measures – new and old – alsoserve to distort democracy and reduce the influence of racial minorities. The racially biased measures of old have since been condemned and revoked but they were allowed to stand for long periods of American electoral history.

Count me as agreeing with Michael Steele on this one.

(h/t Sean McElwee)