For and Against Voter ID — Exaggeration All Around

Rick Hasen previews portions of his forthcoming book, The Voting Wars, on the Election Law Blog and in this excerpt. Among other things, Hasen argues that there is little evidence of significant in-person voter fraud of the sort that would justify strict voter ID laws. At the same time, there is little evidence that the adoption of voter ID requirements suppress voter turnout. Writes Hasen:

many Republican legislators and political operatives support voter i.d. laws for two purposes: first, to depress Democratic turnout, and second to gin up the base. . . .

But there’s another side to the issue of voter identification laws, and more broadly to claims on the left of “voter suppression.” Democrats/those on the left sometimes inflate the potential negative effect of voter identification and other laws on voter turnout, especially among poor and minority voters. Even though it is clear that some Republicans are motivated to pass these laws in an effort to suppress likely Democratic turnout, some of those efforts are counterproductive and even when such efforts work the effects seem likely to be small. Further, just as Republicans use the scare of voter id laws as a wedge issue to boost Republican turnout, Democrats use the scare of voter suppression to boost Democratic turnout.

So while Republicans exaggerate the threat of in-person voter fraud, Democrats exaggerate the threat of voter ID laws. In both cases, the claims far outstrip the available evidence. Concludes Hasen: “In short, we need to be honest about what we know, and what we don’t know, about the effects of these new laws on voter turnout. And we don’t know a lot.”