Questions about voter fraud related to the 2016 elections are renewing the decades-old debate over the effectiveness of voter identification laws around the country. New research from the University of Maryland to be published in the journal American Politics Research finds that several distinct factors influence the likelihood of state voter ID laws being enacted: which party controls the legislature, how recently that party came into power, and the size of the state’s minority population.
Since 2000, the number of states passing voter identification laws for the first time has more than doubled and the parties are deeply divided on the issue. Many Republicans have argued that these laws are a common sense approach to protecting against fraud while many Democrats contend that they suppress votes from underrepresented minority groups and the young, who are less likely to have the necessary ID. Given these stances, the conventional wisdom holds that states run by Republican governors and legislatures are most likely to adopt voter ID laws.
“Our analysis supports this theory but takes it a step further,” said Mike Hanmer, Associate Professor in the UMD Department of Government and Politics and Research Director for the Center for American Politics and Citizenship. “We find that the adoption of Voter ID laws is greatest not just when Republicans are in power but when control of the governor’s office and legislature has recently switched over to Republicans. Additionally, we observe that the effects of these shifts in political power are larger in states with large minority populations.”
Hanmer completed the research alongside Daniel Biggers, an Assistant Professor of Political Sciences at University of California, Riverside who received his PhD in Government and Politics from UMD in 2012. The two analyzed historical data related to voter ID laws spanning four decades.
Hanmer and Biggers contend that the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002 helped alter the landscape of voter ID laws because it required states to enact general enabling legislation, which forced them to address procedures regarding voter identification for a subset of the population, thus facilitating a wider conversation about ID laws. While HAVA may have provided the impetus for many states’ voter ID laws, researchers say the fact that legislation was most likely to be enacted by Republicans in states with high numbers of black and Latino residents is cause for alarm.
“The link between shifts to Republican control and the racial and ethnic composition of the population raises normative concerns consistent with those made by opponents of voter ID laws,” Hanmer said. “Our evidence suggests that at best, this link indicates a lack of effective representation for minorities in this area and at worst an attempt to diminish the influence minority members have on elections.”
November 7, 2016