The Case For Voter ID

The Washington Free Beacon posted an article yesterday with the following headline, “Study: Voter ID Laws Don’t Stop People Voting.”

The article reports:

Strict voter ID laws do not suppress turnout, a new paper finds, regardless of sex, race, Hispanic identity, or party affiliation.

Requiring photo ID to vote is a hotly contested subject in American political discourse. Proponents argue that it is necessary to insure against fraud and preserve the integrity of the American electoral system. Opponents argue that it will disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters—many of whom would be poor and of color—who are unable to easily obtain ID.

In total, 10 states, ranging from Georgia to Wisconsin, require voters to show ID in order to vote. Seven of those states require a photo ID, and three do not. An additional 25 states “request” that voters display ID, but may still permit them to vote on a provision ballot if they cannot. The remaining states “use other methods to verify the identity of voters,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The new research, from an economics professor at the University of Bologna and another at Harvard Business School, indicates that “strict” voting laws of the type implemented in those ten states do not have a statistically significant effect on voter turnout.

A few years ago, North Carolina tested a voter ID system during a primary election. Turnout was higher than in previous primary elections. The voter ID requirement did not suppress the vote. The system allowed the poll workers to scan the voter’s driver’s license in order to print the correct ballot. Implementing that system allowed the lines to move quickly and resulted in more efficient voting for everyone. The idea that voter ID limits voters is a myth. You need an ID to do a lot of everyday things, so most people have an acceptable form of ID.

The article concludes:

At the same time, the study’s authors use the same data to examine the actual effect of strict voter ID laws on voter fraud itself, and similarly find no statistically significant effect. Using two datasets of voter fraud cases (which represent a cumulative 2,000 proven or hypothesized events over eight years), the study examines the relationship between laws and frequency of measured voter fraud, finding no evidence of a change after implementation.

This finding is naturally limited by the extremely small number of voter fraud cases actually identified: fewer than one per million people per year. It is possible that voter ID laws would be more effective suppressing fraud in a context where it was more evidently prevalent; as is, the authors estimate that the laws themselves only cover about 0.3 to 0.1 offenses per million people per year.

In total, then, the paper suggests that voter ID laws are not suppressive, but also that they do not have much of an impact on elections overall.

“Our results suggest that efforts both to safeguard electoral integrity and enfranchise more voters may be better served through other reforms,” it concludes.

Voter ID will not end voter fraud. It will, however, make it more difficult.