Rose Becker is a guest writer for the Journal on World Affairs.
The United Sates has had an extensive history of voter suppression that appeared to come to an end with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet, voter ID laws have become increasingly common since the 2013 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder rendered Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be ineffectual. Are voter ID laws actually a useful tool against voter fraud or are they simply partisan motivated tactics of voter suppression? In addition, do strict photo ID laws have a disproportionate negative impact on the voter turnout of African Americans? Considering the nonexistence of voter fraud, the patterns of voter ID legislation, and the public remarks on voter ID laws, this paper showcases how voter ID laws are nothing more than partisan motivated tactics of targeted voter suppression. In addition, this paper hypothesizes that states which enact strict photo ID laws can expect to see a disproportionate negative impact on the turnout rates of African Americans, as per the Rational Choice Theory on voter behavior. The testing of this hypothesis includes an examination of voter turnout data by race for Tennessee, Kansas, and Kentucky in the 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 election cycles. The findings of this study were largely inconclusive so the hypothesis was neither rejected nor accepted.
Voter ID laws are laws that require or request some form of identification at the polling place on election day in order to prevent voter fraud in the form of voter impersonation. These laws have the potential to affect millions of Americans’ ability to vote, as an estimated 21 million adult American citizens do not posses a valid government issued photo ID.1 Voter ID laws and similar voting restrictions have been controversial topics in the United States for a number of years, with a multitude of Supreme Court cases surrounding these types of legislation. Even today, voter restrictions are still being challenged in the Supreme Court as the case Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee held oral arguments on March 2, 2021.2 This case surrounds two newly passed laws in Arizona, one of which calls for all ballots cast “out of precinct” to be discarded immediately.3 Similar to voter ID laws, opponents of this Arizona law argue that it unfairly discriminates against racial minorities and violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which will be later discussed in detail.4 Voter ID laws are also on the rise, as Georgia’s lower house chamber passed House Bill 531 on March 1, 2021 which contains a provision that requires citizens to provide photo identification for absentee ballots.5 Voter ID laws affect every American that chooses to vote in the many states with these laws, and it is evident that their implementation is only increasing with every election cycle.
As per Article 1 Section 4 Clause 1 of the US Constitution, states have the ability to decide the “times, places, and manner” of both state and federal elections. It is this clause, known informally as the elections clause, that grants states the ability to enact voter ID legislation. Voter ID laws can come in a number of different forms, which are often categorized by the strictness and the type of ID requested. States with photo ID laws either request or require for citizens at the polling place to show an ID that contains a photo, like a driver’s license, while non-photo ID laws allow for documentation that does not include a photo.6 Furthermore, voter ID laws can be divided into strict and non-strict categories. Strict ID laws are laws that, in the event that a citizen lacks the necessary identification on election day, require citizens to cast a provisional ballot which will only be counted once they provide the necessary identification.7 In comparison, non-strict voter ID laws allow for citizens to cast a provisional ballot that can be verified without any further action of the citizen.8 Strict photo ID laws are the most stringent category of voter ID, while non-strict non-photo ID laws are seen as the most relaxed form of voter ID. Voter ID laws in general have the capability of preventing millions of American citizens from engaging in the electoral process. Moreover, strict photo ID laws are the most likely form of voter ID to prevent citizens from voting due to the number of barriers imposed by this type compared to the other categories of voter ID laws.
The opinions on voter ID laws are deeply divided on partisan lines, with proponents arguing that they are necessary to prevent voter fraud and opponents arguing that these laws target and suppress specific demographics of voters. This deep partisan divide begs the question of whether these laws are truly motivated by voter fraud or if they are actually driven by a partisan agenda. Furthermore, strict photo ID laws may place a disproportionate burden on groups that are least likely to already possess the necessary identification, like minorities, the poor, and the elderly. The fact that African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of Americans living in poverty raises an additional question: Do strict photo ID laws have a disproportionate negative effect on the voter turnout rates of African Americans? In order to explore the answers to these research questions, it is necessary to first discuss the history of voter suppression in the United States as well as the history of voter ID laws.
History of Voter Suppression
Voter suppression has existed in the United States since the founding of the Constitution, in which only white property owning men were able to vote. Gradually, as states were given autonomy over their election processes via Article 1 Section 4 Clause 1 of the US Constitution, the ability to vote was extended to non-property owning white men.9 The passage and ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 prohibited the practice of denying African American men the ability to vote, yet they would still face barriers to voting for the next century.10 Southern Democrats acted quickly to suppress African American voters since almost all African Americans aligned themselves with the Republican party because it had been the Republican party with Lincoln that had ended slavery.11 Mississippi quickly passed a “grandfather clause” which restricted voting to only men whose grandfathers’ were allowed to vote prior to the Civil War. This law caused the eligible number of African American men to vote in Mississippi to plummet from over 90% to less than 6%.12
Poll taxes were another method of voter suppression utilized by southern Democrats. A poll tax is a fee that a person is required to pay or show proof of in order to vote. Poll taxes directly targeted poor communities, which were largely African American, because it was those living in poverty who could not afford to pay poll taxes and therefore would not vote.13 All eleven southern states eventually imposed a poll tax, and poll taxes were still used in four of those states by the year 1960.14 Literacy tests were another form of voter suppression enacted by southern Democrats that targeted African Americans, as more than half of African Americans were illiterate in 1890 and therefore could not pass the literacy tests required to vote.15 In addition, poor white men were exempted from literacy tests in 7 states through “grandfather clauses” like those passed in Mississippi.16 Poll taxes, literacy tests, and lengthy registration processes were greatly successful in depressing the voter turnout of African Americans, as Louisiana saw the number of African Americans registered to vote crash from more than 130,000 in 1896 to only 1,342 in 1904 after the passage of these voter suppression tactics.17
Perhaps the most explicit example of voter suppression targeted at African Americans was the enactment of “white primaries” by southern states. Since southern states were dominated by the Democratic Party, it was often the primary vote that most influential. Because of this, a number of southern states, like Texas in 1923, enacted primaries in which only white citizens were allowed to vote.18 The legality of white primaries was challenged multiple times in the Supreme Court over the next couple of decades, but it was not until the 1944 Supreme Court case Smith vs. Allwight that the Supreme Court finally declared white primaries to be in violation of the 15th Amendment.19 This however did not signal the end of voter suppression in the United States.
While the Democratic Party was largely responsible for early voter suppression, this trend began to shift once African American voters abandoned the Republican Party after the Great Depression and FDR’s New Deal.20 Then, in 1968 Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon used the “Southern Strategy” of tapping into the racial fears of southerners, which resulted in Southern states like Mississippi and Alabama joining Republican party.21 Today, African American voters are overwhelmingly Democratic and the majority of southern states are Republican, which will be important to consider when examining voter ID laws. In analyzing the history of voter suppression in the United States, it is evident that there has been an extensive pattern of partisan motivated voter suppression that is also racially biased and discriminatory against African Americans.
History of Voter ID Laws
The history of voter ID laws is closely intertwined with the ending of other discriminatory voting practices because of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Poll taxes in federal elections were ultimately outlawed by the ratification of the 24th Amendment in 1964 during the Civil Rights Movement.22 Shortly after, the use of literacy tests, poll taxes in state elections, and other discriminatory voting laws was outlawed with the passage of The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).23 There are three sections of the VRA of 1965 that are especially important to this analysis, the first being Section 2 which prohibits intentional voter discrimination on the basis of race as well as voting practices that result in voter discrimination on the basis of race even if unintentional. Section 2 has allowed for a number of voter ID laws to be challenged in the court system, specifically those which have the “unintentional” effect of racially biased discrimination since only intentional racially discriminatory voter ID laws violate the 15th Amendment. Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA of 1965 are dependent on one another, as Section 4 designates states and jurisdictions that had histories of discriminatory voting practices while Section 5 declares that these designated states and jurisdictions are required to get pre-clearance from the federal government in order to change their election laws. The VRA of 1965 proved to be extremely successful at increasing African American turnout as Mississippi saw the state’s African American turnout rise from 6% in 1964 to 59% in 1969.24 In addition, one study attributed between 50-87% of the total increase in African American turnout since 1948 to the enactment of the VRA of 1965, with other factors like the 24th Amendment taking up the remaining percentage.25
In 2005, Indiana, which did not fall under Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA of 1965, passed the first piece of legislation that required citizens to present a valid photo ID at the polls in order to vote.26 This law was subsequently challenged in the Supreme Court in 2008 in the case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.27 The Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, ruled in favor of the constitutionality of the Indiana photo ID law on the premise that the small burden placed on voters was outweighed by the state interest of preventing voter fraud.28 The justices were almost entirely divided by partisanship with all but one liberal justice, Stevens, dissenting.29 This decision gave states that did not fall under Section 5 of the VRA of 1965 the green light to pass additional voter ID requirements.
The Supreme Court case that was most pivotal to the adoption of voter ID laws was Shelby County v. Holder, decided in 2013. This case was centered on the constitutionality of Congress’s renewal of Section 5 of the VRA of 1965 under the constraints of Section 4.30 The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, declared that Section 4 of the VRA of 1965 was unconstitutional which effectively nulled Section 5 of the VRA of 1965 as well.31 Once again, the Supreme Court was divided along party lines as the four liberal justices dissented the decision, stating that Congress had provided sufficient evidence that there was still a need for Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA to be enforced to protect against voter suppression.32 In contrast, the majority opinion found that voter intimidation and discrimination was no longer prevalent and therefore Section 4 was an unnecessary overreach of congressional power.33 This decision was the catalyst for the adoption of voter ID laws, as Texas officials acted that same day to enact a strict voter ID law that had previously been blocked by the protections of the VRA of 1965 followed by a number of other Republican-led states.34
Today, 36 states have adopted laws that either require or request some form of ID at the polling station.35 Table 1 showcases the state of voter ID laws as of 2020, divided by the previously discussed categories. It is imperative to note that since the unprecedented turnout of the 2020 presidential election, 18 states have introduced 40 bills that either impose new voter ID requirements or enact more stringent voter ID laws.36 Therefore, this table may be inaccurate for the 2022 election cycle.
Considering the well-known Rational Choice Theory proposed by Anthony Downs and the fact that 25% of African American citizens in the US lack a government issued photo ID, I hypothesize that states that enact strict photo ID laws can expect African American voter turnout to decrease more than white voter turnout.37 The Rational Choice Theory is a one of the most widely known theories within public opinion and voting behavior and was first articulated by Anthony Downs in his 1957 book An Economic Theory of Democracy. The Rational Choice Theory is a cost-benefit analysis of voter behavior which holds that if the costs of voting outweighs the individual benefits of voting a person will abstain from voting and if the costs of voting are less than the individual benefits of voting a person will vote.38 Downs characterizes the benefits of voting into two categories, with the first being the “long-run participation value” of voting which is described as the amount of value that citizens place on democracy and the importance of voter participation.39 The second category of value is the “party differential,” which is determined by a citizen’s perception of the differences in benefits that each candidate may offer for them personally.40 If candidates are perceived to be extremely similar in their positions and the possible benefits afforded, citizens will view this benefit of voting as smaller than if candidates are polar opposites. Furthermore, if a citizen views the results of the election to be predetermined, as in one candidate is expected to win in a landslide, they will be more likely to abstain from voting because they perceive their ability to influence the election outcome as ineffectual.42 Finally, the principal cost of voting characterized by Downs is the time required, rather than the direct money costs.43 However, time is money, as the acquirement of money almost always requires some devotion of time which is relevant to the discussion of voter ID laws.
As previously stated, roughly 25% of voting-age African American citizens in the US do not possess a government issued photo ID which is the highest percentage compared to other races.43 Thus, a quarter of African Americans must go through the necessary steps to acquire a photo ID if they reside in states with strict photo ID laws and wish to vote. The acquisition of a government issued photo ID comes with a number of steps that require both time and money such as: driving to the DMV, waiting in line, and paying for the ID and/or the documentation required to get an ID. Tying this with the Rational Choice Theory, voter ID laws therefore increase the costs of voting which increases the odds that the cost of voting will outweigh the benefits, making citizens without government issued photo IDs more likely to abstain from voting if they live in states with strict photo ID laws. Furthermore, since African Americans are disproportionately more likely to lack a government issued photo ID, it would be expected that they would be disproportionally more likely to abstain from voting due the increase in the cost of voting. Therefore, it is reasonable to infer that strict photo ID laws would disproportionately decrease the voter turnout of African Americans compared to white Americans.
Previous Research on Voter ID Impacts
There have been a large number of studies conducted on the possible impacts of voter ID laws on total voter turnout. However, many of these studies have found results that often contradict each other, as the Government Accountability Office’s 2014 report showcases. In this report, the GAO reviewed 10 different studies on the general impacts of voter ID laws on voter turnout and found that five studies showed no statistically significant change in turnout, four showed a statistically significant decrease in turnout, and one showed a statistically significant increase in turnout.44 In addition, the GAO report also performed its own study on the effects of 44 voter ID laws by demographic. The GAO study analyzed voter turnout data for both Tennessee and Kansas in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and compared it to the voter turnout data from Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, and Maine for the same election cycles. The results of this45 study showed that both Kansas and Tennessee saw disproportionate drops in African American turnout after the enactment of strict photo ID laws in comparison to the control states that had not yet passed strict photo ID laws.46
A number of other studies have also examined the effects of voter ID laws on the African American community, with varying and often contradictory results. One study that examined the effects of Georgia’s voter ID laws by analyzing turnout data from the 2000-2014 election cycles found that the implementation of voter ID laws had no effect on the African American voter turnout in the presidential elections. The study did find that African American voter turnout47 in Georgia decreased in the 2006 midterm election after the enactment of voter ID laws, however, the trend in African American turnout had been already decreasing and rebounded in the next midterm election. In contrast, another study examined voter turnout data from the Cooperative 48 Congressional Election Study (CCES) for the 2006-2014 elections in all states that had enacted both strict and and non-strict voter ID laws and found that strict voter ID laws resulted in a disproportionate drop among African Americans in comparison to white Americans.49 However, a 2019 study that attempted to replicate these results using Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration Supplement data rather than CCES data found that strict voter ID laws disproportionately affected Hispanic voter turnout rates but not African American turnout rates.50 A scientific consensus on whether or not voter ID laws disproportionately affect African American voter turnout has clearly not been reached at this point.
In order to test my hypothesis that states which enact strict photo ID laws can expect African American voter turnout to decrease more than white voter turnout I will be conducting two case studies. Each case study will compare the changes in African American voter turnout and white voter turnout after strict photo ID laws were put in place. For the case studies, I chose two states that implemented strict photo ID laws because strict photo ID laws are most likely to have the largest effect on voter turnout due to the fact that they impose the highest burden on voters. The two states that I selected for this analysis are Kansas and Tennessee, which both passed strict photo ID laws in 2011. Since both states passed strict photo ID laws in 2011, I will be comparing the voter turnout data from the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections. The voter turnout data for the presidential and midterm elections will not be compared with one another because presidential elections have historically had higher turnout than midterm elections. In addition, to account for possible nationwide fluctuations in turnout, I will be comparing each state to the control state, Kentucky, which did not have voter ID laws in place during the elections chosen.
The raw voter turnout data for these case studies was acquired from the U.S Census Bureau via multiple online archives of voter turnout data by demographics. From this raw data, 51 I have calculated the percentage change in the voter turnout of African Americans and white Americans from 2008 to 2012 and from 2010 to 2014 for all three states. This was a simple calculation in which I subtracted the percent of citizens that voted in the 2012 and 2014 elections by the percent of citizens that voted in the 2008 and 2010 elections, respectively. In addition, I have also calculated the percentage change in the registered voter turnout of African Americans and white Americans from 2008 to 2012 and from 2010 to 2014 for all three states. This calculation was done by first dividing the total number of citizens who voted by the total number of registered voters for both African Americans and white Americans. Then, I subtracted the percentage of registered citizens that voted in the 2012 and 2014 elections by the percent of registered citizens that voted in the 2008 and 2010 elections, respectively. Examining the percentage change in registered citizens who voted accounts for some possible confounding variables, like voter registration initiatives, that would inflate the percentages of citizens who voted but not percentages of registered citizens who voted. All of the data I have calculated has been placed into tables that compare the data from each case study state with the control state Kentucky.
Partisanship and Voter ID Laws
To answer the question of whether voter ID laws are a partisan motivated tactic of voter suppression, I will analyze the partisan split in public opinion on voter ID laws, the factuality of the arguments from each side, and the patterns and characteristics of states with voter ID laws. Finally, I will also include examples from the media of politicians’ public remarks on the purpose and intended goals of voter ID laws.
As seen in the Supreme Court decisions Shelby County v. Holder and Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the opinions on the legality and necessity of voter ID laws are also split along party lines the American public. A study performed by Pew Research asked whether respondents favored requiring government issued photo IDs to vote and found that 50% of liberal Democrats and 75% of moderate/conservative Democrats were in favor while 95% of conservative Republicans and 88% of moderate/liberal Republicans were in favor. It is 52 important to note that while the percentage of Democrats in agreement with voter ID laws is substantially high, there has also been a large increase in the media coverage on voter fraud which has been shown to increase the public’s perceptions of widespread fraud and therefore increase the public’s support of voter ID laws. Considering the massive 45% difference 5354 between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans favorability of strict photo ID laws, it is reasonable to claim that there is a correlation between a citizen’s partisanship and their opinions on voter ID laws. There is also evidence that the presence of voter ID laws affects citizens’ confidence in elections based on their partisanship. Democrats in states with no voter ID laws were 57% likely to have high confidence in their state’s elections, compared to Democrats in states with the strictest voter ID laws who were 39% likely to have high confidence in their state’s elections. In contrast, Republicans in states with no voter ID laws were 47% likely to 55 have high confidence in their state’s elections, while Republicans in states with the strictest voter ID laws were 60% likely to have high confidence in their state’s elections. In examining this 56 data, there is an interesting connection between partisanship, the presence of voter ID laws, and confidence in one’s elections. Democrats in states with no voter ID laws are almost exactly as likely to have high confidence in their state’s elections as Republicans in states with the strictest voter ID laws. In addition, it appears that the presence of voter ID laws has a slightly higher effect on the confidence of Democrats as their confidence dropped by 18% when in a state with the strictest voter ID laws while Republicans’ confidence dropped by 13% when in a state with no voter ID laws. However, both groups’ confidence in elections is clearly influenced by the presence of voter ID laws, which further showcases the partisan split in opinions on both voter ID laws and their effects on election integrity.
The partisan divide is clear and the arguments on both sides are also widely documented. Proponents of voter ID laws often cite voter fraud concerns as the motivation of these laws, which specifically target voter impersonation fraud at polling stations on election day. Voter impersonation is a type of fraud in which someone poses as someone else and casts a ballot in their name illegally. Furthermore, supporters of voter ID claim that the laws do not negatively affect voter turnout nor do they pose an unfair burden upon voters. Those opposed to voter ID 57 laws most commonly argue that voter impersonation occurs at a rare and ineffectual rate and therefore voter ID laws are relatively pointless. In response to the claim the voter 58 impersonation is rare, proponents of voter ID laws will often argue that fraud can still occur even if not observed and subsequently prosecuted. Proponents of voter ID laws also argue that even 59 if voter impersonation is rare, it could have an effect on election outcomes in the event of an extremely close election, like the 2000 election between George Bush and Al Gore. However, 60 many opponents to voter ID laws point out that the vast majority of elections are not decided by extremely small margins, so for voter impersonation to affect an election outcome it would have to be widespread. Finally, opposers to voter ID laws also raise concerns that voter ID laws are burdensome for voters and are especially burdensome to disadvantaged minorities.61 The factuality of certain claims on both sides rests on relatively shaky grounds. To begin, a comprehensive study by The Washington Post found only 31 instances of voter impersonation from 2000 to 2014 out of over one billion votes cast, which includes claims that were not prosecuted. In addition, there have been a multitude of studies that have found no evidence of 62 widespread voter impersonation. Considering this evidence, it is extremely unlikely that voter63 impersonation could affect the outcome of any election so it is reasonable to infer that the motivation behind voter ID laws is actually partisan driven. The claim by opponents of voter ID laws that voter impersonation fraud is rare and ineffectual appears to be true according to the evidence. However, as previously discussed, there is conflicting evidence as to whether voter ID laws reduce turnout among certain demographics like disadvantaged minorities. The later case studies on the effects of strict photo ID laws on African American turnout in Tennessee and Kansas aim to shed light on this controversial claim.
Voter ID laws have been historically supported by Republican politicians, with all voter ID legislation having been introduced by Republican-led legislatures aside from Rhode Island as of 2016. In addition, as of 2016, more than 97% of Republican legislators voted yes on voter 64 ID laws while more than 88% of Democratic legislators voted no. The same study also found 65 that the racial composition of a legislator’s electorate was a determining factor in whether they supported voter ID laws, as Republican legislators in districts with substantial African American populations were more likely to support voter ID laws. Considering that 87% of African 66 Americans identify as Democrats or leaning Democrat, it is apparent why Republican legislators would aim to suppress their votes with voter ID legislation. The ultimate goal of politicians can 67 be simplified as succeeding in winning office, which is evident in the prevalence of partisan gerrymandering. With this fact in mind, it is apparent that voter ID laws serve as another example of legislators attempting to manipulate the election process for the betterment of themselves and their own party.
The most obvious evidence that showcases the true motivation of voter ID laws comes from legislators themselves, as a number of Republican politicians have made public remarks stating that voter ID laws help Republican candidates win. This is because minorities, the poor, and young individuals overwhelmingly lean Democrat and are also some of the least likely demographics to possess the necessary identification, as will be discussed in the next section. In 2012, the Republican Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stated, “voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: done.”68
Furthermore, in 2016, Republican Representative Glenn Grothman stated while discussing the likelihood of Republicans winning the upcoming presidential election that “now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well.” Finally, and 69 possibly the most direct example to the disenfranchisement of African Americans, was a comment made by the North Carolina GOP precinct chairman Don Yelton when discussing the effects of voter ID laws, “if it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks…so be it.” It is quite obvious from 70 these public remarks that Republican legislators believe that voter ID laws help them win elections by reducing the turnout of largely Democratic populations, like African Americans. Voter ID laws are clearly divided by partisanship both in the public and among legislators, and the support for voter ID laws in the US government is also motivated by partisan related goals. Republican legislators have publicly acknowledged that they are aware that voter ID laws specifically benefit the Republican party, showcasing the true motivation behind these laws. Similar to previous tactics of voter suppression, like poll taxes that targeted African Americans, this evidence begins to showcase how voter ID laws are also intended to target African Americans because of their assumed affiliation with the Democratic Party. In addition, the historical examples of voter suppression were both partisan and racially motivated, similar to how voter ID laws are partisan motivated yet impact voters in a racially biased manner. The next section will discuss how voter ID laws can have a disproportionate impact on African American voters.
Barriers Imposed by Voter ID Laws on African Americans
In order to fully understand why voter ID laws are driven by partisan motivation, it is necessary to examine the mechanisms of how these laws can depress the turnout among largely Democratic populations, specifically African Americans. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, roughly 25% of African American voting age citizens do not possess a valid government issued ID compared to 8% of white voting age citizens. Thus, African Americans are far more 71 likely to have to acquire such identification if they choose to vote which means that voter ID laws place a disproportionate burden on African Americans compared to white Americans. In addition, an estimated 12% of individuals in households with annual incomes of less than $25,000 lack a photo ID compared to only 2% of individuals in households with annual incomes above $150,000. Furthermore, according to the US Census Bureau, the poverty rate among 72 African Americans in the US is 18.8% in comparison to the poverty rate among white Americans which is 7.3%. Synthesizing the data on income levels and ID possession with the data on 73 poverty rates showcases a possible explanation for why African Americans are far more likely to lack a government issued photo ID, since they are nearly 3 times as likely to live in poverty compared to white Americans.
The process of obtaining a government issued photo ID requires for some form of documentation proving one’s citizenship, like a passport or birth certificate. One study found that citizens who fell below the $25,000 annual income bracket were more than twice as likely to not possess the necessary citizenship documentation compared to citizens earning more than $25,000 a year. Considering that African Americans make up a disproportionate percentage of citizens 74 in poverty, it is reasonable to assume that African Americans would be more likely to have to acquire such documentation in order to obtain a valid photo ID compared to white citizens. The process of acquiring such identification can be costly depending on the state. In addition, the acquisition of an ID also requires time and energy, as individuals may have to take off work because of the DMV’s operating hours and may have to wait in long lines once they arrive. Furthermore, it is important to consider the time it takes to travel to the DMV, which is much longer and more expensive for those who require public transportation. Since it is commonly known that public transportation is more often used by individuals living in poverty, it is also evident that African Americans will be more likely to have to use public transportation to get to the DMV because they have one of the highest poverty rates. The time, energy, and money spent to acquire the necessary documentation and a photo ID can range from $75-175.75 This cost may prove to outweigh the payout of voting for many African Americans, which according to the Rational Choice Theory, increase the chances that African Americans abstain from voting. This appears to be true as it has been shown that there is an inverse correlation between the costs of voting and voter turnout, as the cost of voting goes up the voter turnout goes down. In the first case study state Tennessee, it is free to request a state issued photo ID, but 76 there is no additional financial assistance for those who lack the necessary documentation. In 77 comparison, Kansas has a waiver process in which citizens seeking to obtain a photo ID for the purpose of voting who lack a birth certificate can fill out a waiver to receive both a birth certificate and the subsequent photo ID at no cost. Despite the reduced cost of receiving a valid 78 photo ID and documentation in these states, the process of doing so still requires a substantial dedication of time and energy that many African Americans may not be able to sacrifice. Studies have also shown the the application of voter ID laws may also be biased against African Americans. One study that was conducted at a number of polling stations in Boston found that the probability of African Americans to be asked to present identification was 10 percentage points higher than the probability of white Americans. In addition, a study on the79 2006 and 2008 elections that was administered online through surveys found similar results.80 According to this study, the percentage of African Americans who reported being asked to present their ID was 8 points higher than white voters in the 2006 general election and 20 points higher than white voters in the 2008 Super Tuesday primaries. African Americans are not only 81 particularly burdened by the costs associated with the enactment of voter ID laws, but they are also more likely to be unfairly targeted in the application of such voter ID laws.
Tennessee Case Study: Voter Turnout in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 Elections
Table 2.1 presents the percentage changes in both African American and white voter turnout for Kentucky and Tennessee from the 2010 to 2014 midterm elections and the 2008 to 2012 presidential elections. Tennessee saw a substantial 5.2% drop in African American turnout from 2010 to 2014 while the white voter turnout only decreased by 0.2%. In comparison, Kentucky saw a 5.9% increase in African American turnout and a 0.4% increase in white voter turnout from 2010 to 2014. Also notable is that from 2008 to 2012, the African American turnout in Tennessee actually increased by 1.8% compared to Kentucky which saw a large 8.6% dip in African American turnout.
Table 2.2 shows the percentage changes in registered voter turnout for African American and white Americans in Tennessee and Kentucky for the same election cycles. Notable in this table is the 6.7% decrease in turnout of registered African Americans and 2.4% decrease in turnout among registered white voters from 2010 to 2014 in Tennessee. In comparison, from 2010 to 2014 Kentucky only saw a 0.8% decrease in turnout among registered African Americans and a larger decrease in registered white voter turnout. From 2008 to 2012, there was a 9.1% decrease in registered African American turnout as well as a 4.9% dip in registered white voter turnout in Tennessee. Surprisingly, from 2008 to 2012 there was a very large 16.9% drop in registered African American turnout in Kentucky.
Kansas Case Study: Voter Turnout in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014 Elections
Table 3.1 displays the percentage changes in turnout for African Americans and white Americans in Kansas and Kentucky from the 2008 to 2012 presidential elections and the 2010 to 2014 midterm elections. Kansas saw a surprising 11% increase in African American turnout from 2010 to 2014 while white voter turnout only increased by 0.5%. Similarly, from 2010 to 2014, Kentucky also saw a large 5.9% increase in African American turnout and a small 0.4% increase in white voter turnout. From 2008 to 2012 there was a 1.6% decrease in African American turnout in Kansas and a small 0.3% increase in white voter turnout. In contrast, from 2008 to 2012, Kentucky saw a substantial 8.6% decrease in African American turnout and a 3.4% decrease in white voter turnout.
Table 3.2 shows the percentage changes in registered voter turnout for African Americans and white Americans in Kansas and Kentucky for the same election cycles. Quite notable in Kansas is the 7.2% increase in turnout among registered African American voters from 2010 to 2014, which is more than three times the increase of registered white voter turnout. Compared to Kentucky which saw a larger decrease in registered white voter turnout than registered African American turnout from 2010 to 2014. From 2008 to 2012, Kansas had a 6.8% drop in registered African American turnout and a slightly smaller 5.6% drop in registered white voter turnout. Again, Kentucky saw an astonishing 16.9% drop in registered African American turnout from 2008 to 2012.
Discussion of Findings
There were disproportionate decreases in registered African American voter turnout compared to registered white voter turnout between both the 2010 to 2014 and 2008 to 2012 election cycles in Tennessee. There was also a disproportionate decrease in African American turnout compared to white voter turnout from 2010 to 2014, however, from 2008 to 2012 African American turnout in Tennessee increased while white voter turnout decreased. This increase is even more substantial when compared to Kentucky, which saw a very large decrease in African American turnout from 2008 to 2012. There is some evidence that the 2011 implementation of strict photo ID laws in Tennessee had a larger negative impact on African American turnout than white voter turnout. However, the increase in African American turnout from 2008 to 2012 in Tennessee coupled with the large decrease in African American turnout in Kentucky from 2008 to 2012 conflicts with this evidence.
The results from Kansas are even more unclear than the results from Tennessee. In Kansas, from 2008 to 2012, there were bigger decreases in the percentages of registered turnout and total turnout among African Americans compared to the percentages of registered turnout and total turnout among white Americans. However, in Kentucky from 2008 to 2012, the decreases in percentages of registered and total African American turnout were much larger than Kansas. Furthermore, from 2010 to 2014, Kansas saw very large increases in the percentages of registered turnout and total turnout among African Americans with much smaller increases in the percentages of registered turnout and total turnout among white Americans. The results from Kansas are therefore entirely inconclusive as half of the data is at odds with the other half. Considering the results from all three states, it is evident that no affirmative conclusion can be drawn on whether or not strict photo ID laws disproportionately depress African American turnout in comparison to white voter turnout. Therefore, my hypothesis that states which enact strict photo ID laws can expect to see African American voter turnout decrease more than with voter turnout is neither confirmed or denied by the results. The results of this study do not mean that strict photo ID laws have no effect on the turnout of African Americans, as this study is quite simple and likely has a number of confounding variables difficult to control for that may have skewed the results.
Partisan and racially motivated voter suppression tactics are not a new occurrence in the United States. Voter ID laws have taken the shape of the modern day poll tax that increases the costs of voting and is motivated by the partisan agenda yet simultaneously biased against African Americans. Voter ID laws have been shown to be exceptionally burdensome on African Americans and the application of these laws is also unfairly biased towards African Americans. In an era of increased racial tension, it is imperative that any legislation that has the effect, whether intentional or not, of discriminating against a particular race or ethnicity be subject to the most utmost scrutiny. The absence of evidence proving that voter impersonation occurs at an effectual rate begs the question: are the possible implications of voter ID laws worth it? The answer should be no considering the amount of evidence that showcases the racial biases engrained within voter ID laws and their application. The Supreme Court should recognize the partisan and racial nature of voter ID laws and acknowledge that voter ID laws do in fact violate both Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as well as the 15th Amendment because they intentionally target African Americans. In addition, the Supreme Court should also reinstate Sections 4 and 5 of the VRA of 1965, as it has been made clear that voter suppression is not simply a thing of the past.
Despite the fact that the findings of this paper were not able to confirm or deny the ability of strict photo ID laws to depress African American turnout specifically, this question should still be explored in future research. Future research may need to include much larger sample sizes, with better statistical analyses that account for additional confounding variables that my studies were unable to control for. In addition, it may also be helpful to approach future research from a qualitative perspective rather than a quantitive perspective. This could come in the form of surveying registered voters that did not vote to determine whether their choice was related to voter ID laws, or possibly collecting testimonies from citizens who were unable to vote due to new voter ID laws. As the number of proposed voter ID legislation has skyrocketed in 2021, it is likely that other researchers in the future will continue to attempt to answer the very same questions that I, and others before me, have posed.
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