Newspaper: Voter ID Laws Have Positive Effect, If Any, On Minority Turnout


On Tuesday, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published the results of its investigation into how mandatory voter identification has affected the frequency with which different demographic groups go to the polls in Georgia since the voter ID law went into effect there five years ago.

The results don’t offer much statistical comfort for Attorney General Eric Holder and others who’ve made a Federal case — literally — over the Supreme Court’s historic ruling this summer to strike down part of the civil rights-era Voting Rights Act, an outdated law that unfairly leashed several States’ powers to draw their own voting districts.

While requiring voters to present a valid form of State-issued photo identification failed to catch a single documented case of voter fraud in five years, it also didn’t stymie the will of non-white voters in Georgia to play an active part in the process of self-government.

The AJC found that, in the State’s new era of voter ID, minorities are actually turning out to vote at a faster rate than the population of their demographic is growing.

“Turnout among black and Hispanic voters increased from 2006 to 2010, dramatically outpacing population growth for those groups over the same period,” writes reporter Shannon McCaffrey:

Elections data reviewed by the AJC show that participation among black voters rose by 44 percent from 2006 — before the law was implemented — to 2010. For Hispanics, the increase for the same period was 67 percent. Turnout among whites rose 12 percent.

It was expected that African American turnout would spike in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first person of color to win the presidency. And it did rise to historic highs in Georgia.

Black participation fell in 2010, as it did for all demographic groups. Still, a far greater share of black voters turned out in 2010 than in 2006, showing that Obama was not the only factor driving turnout.

Critics of laws in Georgia, Pennsylvania and other States requiring voters to demonstrate proof of identity at the polling place have argued that minorities and poor people will be excluded from de facto voter eligibility because many don’t currently possess any of the forms of ID required under the law.

“Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote,” complains the well-intentioned American Civil Liberties Union. “Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.”

It doesn’t take a study to “suggest,” however, that everyone who legally operates a motor vehicle in the United States has some form of valid driver’s license, and that –rich or poor, citizen or expat — each of them was, at least once, “required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it.” Requiring voter ID is no more restrictive than that; in fact, it’s far more permissive.

In Georgia, any eligible voter who doesn’t have one of the several passable forms of qualifying identification (a passport, a military or government employee ID, a State college or university student ID, a driver’s license — even an expired one) can apply for a free — yes, free — Georgia Voter Identification Card at their local registrar or department of motor vehicles. Applicants have to show proof they’re registered voters, and the list of documents that identifies them and verifies them as citizens and residents is intentionally broad.

“If you look at the numbers, they clearly show that critics of this law were wrong,” Hans von Spakovsky, a former legal counsel to the Justice Department’s civil rights division who now works for the conservative Heritage Foundation, told the AJC. “Their argument has always been it would depress turnout, but it didn’t happen — quite the opposite.”

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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