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Human Rights Politics & Government Social Issues Student Essays

Voter ID Laws: The Motivation and Impacts on African Americans

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.

Rose Becker is a guest writer for the Journal on World Affairs.

 

Abstract  

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.

Introduction  

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. 

Hypothesis  

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.  

 Methodology  

 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. 

Conclusion  

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.  



ENDNOTES

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By Rose Becker

Rose Becker is a fourth year Political Science Major and Environmental Systems and Society Minor. Rose plans on attending law school after graduating from UCLA and has enjoyed serving as a reader for multiple Political Science courses at UCLA. In the future, Rose hopes to work in Constitutional Law and her ultimate dream would be to serve on the Supreme Court.

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