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February 7, 2011

voter ID requirements may not be a big problem

I do not favor voter ID requirements, because evidence of fraud is extremely scarce; some people don't have government-issued ID's; and in general, our voting process is too cumbersome, not too easy. But I would hesitate before putting major effort into fighting the ID requirements. In a carefully conducted survey,* Harvard political scientist Stephen Ansolabehere and colleagues asked 22,211 voters if they were (a) asked for ID at the polling place and (b) blocked from voting. Twenty-five respondents out of those 22,211 said that this had happened to them. That is slightly more than one tenth of one percent--and some of those may have been truly ineligible. In 2008, Ansolabehere and colleagues asked non-voters why they hadn't voted, and four people out of 1,113 non-voters cited ID requirements as one reason. (Those four people also cited other reasons, so it's not clear that abolishing the requirements would have caused them to participate.)

I can well imagine that the intent of ID requirements is to suppress voting. The requirements are being applied inequitably: according to the Ansolabehere study, African Americans are much more likely than whites to report that they were asked for ID. The intent is indefensible. On the other hand, if the actual reduction in turnout is much less than one percent, maybe we should put our attention elsewhere, whether that means effective civic education, adequate numbers of polling stations, same-day voter registration, or campaign finance reform.

*Stephen Ansolabehere, "Effects of Identification Requirements on Voting: Evidence from the Experiences of Voters on Election Day," PS, January 2009 pp. 127-30. The survey used an Internet sample, not a random-digit-dial sample, but the authors employed impressive techniques to test for representativeness.

February 7, 2011 1:29 PM | category: none

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