Right-wing media figures are using the high April 5 voter turnout during the presidential primary in Wisconsin, which has a voter ID law, to dismiss concerns about the discriminatory impact of such laws. But experts say conclusions about the impact of voter ID laws cannot be drawn based only on high voter turnout, and several media outlets reported that the law did harm potential voters in the state's primary.
Wisconsin's Primary Had High Turnout
Wisconsin Had Highest Primary Turnout Since 1980. The Associated Press reported on April 5 that Wisconsin's primary was projected to have the state's “highest turnout in a presidential primary since 1980” :
Wisconsin is projected to have its highest turnout in a presidential primary since 1980, but that hasn't translated into problems at the polls.
The state elections board projects turnout at 40 percent of eligible voters. [Associated Press, 4/5/16]
Right-Wing Media Cite High Turnout To Dismiss Criticism Of State's Voter ID Law
MSNBC's Morning Joe: Fears Of Voter ID “Overplayed” Due To High Turnout. During the April 6 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough mockingly said regarding the high turnout, “I thought there was voter suppression because I sure heard a lot of stories yesterday about voter suppression and these voter ID laws.” Co-host Mika Brzezinski agreed, saying fears were “overplayed” :
MIKA BRZEZINSKI (HOST): So to that point, GOP turnout easily broke the record set 36 years ago in 1980, with nearly 1.1 million people participating.
JOE SCARBOROUGH (HOST): But I thought there was voter suppression because I sure heard a lot of stories yesterday about voter suppression and these voter ID laws. Like I --
MARK HALPERIN: Imagine how big turnout would have been without those.
SCARBOROUGH: Were people not thrown in jail, Willie? I thought they got water hoses out yesterday.
WILLIE GEIST (HOST): Not last night, no.
SCARBOROUGH: Not last night?
BRZEZINSKI: That was in the media.
SCARBOROUGH: Oh because in the media all day yesterday all I heard were stories, breathless stories after breathless stories.
BRZEZINSKI: It's a story. It was a little bit overplayed. [MSNBC, Morning Joe, 4/6/16]
National Review's Christian Schneider: “Let Us Say A Brief Prayer In Memory Of the Voter ID Vote Suppression Talking Point.”
Let us say a brief prayer in memory of the Voter ID vote suppression talking point. https://t.co/I7EyvsCmYe
-- Christian Schneider (@Schneider_CM) April 6, 2016
And Right-Wing Media Downplay Impact Of The Law As A Whole
Fox's Jonah Goldberg Mocks Concerns About Long Lines: “Because Nothing Important Is Worth Waiting An Hour For.”
The horror. Because nothing important is worth waiting an hour for. https://t.co/VtYqydM0vx
-- Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) April 6, 2016
Fox's Kilmeade: Twitter Users Say Voter ID Laws Are “Common Sense.” During the April 6 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade dismissed concerns former Attorney General Eric Holder raised over Wisconsin's voter ID law, saying Twitter users said “massive voter turnout is a good thing for democracy and ID laws are common sense” :
BRIAN KILMEADE (HOST): “Our democracy is being stolen.” That's what former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder tweeted out yesterday. He was angry over new voter ID laws and long voting lines. Twitter users pushed back, saying massive voter turnout is a good thing for democracy and ID laws are common sense. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/6/16]
Fox's McKelway: Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Is “Fairly Simple.” During the April 5 edition of Fox News' The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, reporter Doug McKelway said Wisconsin's voter ID law “is one of the strictest in the nation, but it's still fairly, fairly simple” and proceeded to demonstrate how to vote in the state in order to imply it was easy to do:
DOUG MCKELWAY: According to the state board of elections, 1.75 million people are expected to vote in Wisconsin. That is virtually unprecedented for a primary election, it's about 40 percent of the electorate. Early voting in the state certainly bears that out. They're seeing in the Milwaukee area an increase of 600 percent over the 2008 and 2012 primary elections, so that's really, really significant. Certainly is the the case here in Waukesha West High School. This polling precinct here where at 7 o'clock this morning in the first hour, they saw more voters here than they had in the entire day of a February primary.
Let me walk and talk you through a little bit of what's going on here. They've got a new voter ID law in Wisconsin, which is one of the strictest in the nation, but it's still fairly, fairly simple. You simply do what I'm doing. You come up here, you present your ID, you state your name, they confirm that on the piece of paper, you sign your name, they give you a sample ballot like this. It's very similar to sample ballots we've seen in other states. It still includes the names of people who have suspended their campaigns: Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, even Jim Gilmore is still on here. Once you get your ballot, you walk right over here to the little machines, as these three voters are doing right now. They vote, they complete the process, and insert the ballot right here. [Fox News, The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson, 4/5/16]
But Experts Say Conclusions On Causation Cannot Be Drawn From A Correlation Between High Turnout And ID Laws
Former Analyst For The Brennan Center: Claims That Increased Turnout Demonstrates Voter ID Do Not Suppress Voting Are “At Best Unscientific, At Worst Just Plain Wrong.” Sundeep Iyer, formerly of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said those who claim high turnout rates in states with stringent voter ID laws show an absence of voter suppression need “a simple statistics lesson” :
Any good student of Statistics 101 will tell you that correlation does not imply causation. Apparently, many voter ID supporters never got the memo.
Two and a half years ago, Justin Levitt wrote on this blog about how some proponents of voter ID requirements were asserting that stringent ID laws in Georgia and Indiana did not depress turnout in 2008. Those proponents thought they had found their magic bullet: turnout in Georgia and Indiana was higher in 2008 than in 2004, despite the implementation of strict ID laws in the interim.
Mr. Levitt gave them a simple statistics lesson. Even if turnout increases at the same time as the adoption of a new voter ID law, there may be something other than the voter ID law - Mr. Levitt identified campaign mobilization, in particular - that caused the turnout increase. In other words, correlation does not imply causation.
Bad statistical practices - like old habits - die hard. Supporters of voter ID requirements are at it again, this time misinterpreting a new set of election results in Georgia. In response to E.J. Dionne's Washington Post column on vote suppression efforts across the United States, Georgia's Secretary of State wrote to the Post's editors about how an increase in black turnout between 2006 and 2010 showed that voter ID laws do not suppress turnout. Hans von Spakovsky repeated the assertion on NPR and in USA Today, and Ohio House Speaker William Batchelder picked up the same message in defending Ohio's proposed voter ID requirement. Citing the Georgia statistics in a see-this-couldn't-be-that-bad sort of way has become a central talking point among proponents of voter ID laws.
Once again, these proponents have mistaken simple correlation for causation. You don't need to be a statistician to know that without controlling for other factors that might influence turnout, the assertion that Georgia's voter ID requirement didn't depress turnout is meaningless -- at best unscientific, at worst just plain wrong. [Brennan Center For Justice, 7/6/11]
Law Professor: Idea That Voter ID Laws Don't Hurt Turnout Is “Correlation-Causation Fallacy.” In 2011, a Talking Points Memo piece quoted Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt rebutting claims from Heritage Foundation fellow Hans von Spakovsky that voter ID laws don't suppress minority turnout, saying it's “correlation-causation fallacy.” For example, Levitt noted that while he has facial hair and Spakovsky does not, “certainly opposition to voter ID doesn't cause facial hair” :
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) squared off with voting rights restrictions enthusiast Hans von Spakovsky at Senate hearing on Thursday, accusing the Heritage Foundation fellow of leaving out a crucial piece of data that undermined his argument that voter ID laws don't suppress minority turnout.
In his written testimony, von Spakovsky said that the fact that Georgia had the highest voter turnout in its history in 2008 when there was a photo ID law on the books was proof that the measure didn't suppress turnout.
Franken wasn't the only one taking shots an (sic) von Spakovsky. Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School who previously authored a report for the Brennan Center which found no evidence of a national problem of voter impersonation fraud, said von Spakovsky's logic was flawed.
“There's a basic -- and I mean basic -- misconception here,” Levitt said. “It's called the correlation-causation fallacy, and anybody who's had statistics for a week can talk to you about it.”
“Mr. von Spakovsky and I agree on one thing, that the turnout studies don't show great impact, but that's because they can't,” Levitt said. “You can't draw any real conclusions about that.”
“I'll give you an example. Mr. von Spakovsky supports voter ID restrictions. I oppose them. Mr. von Spakovsky has no facial hair. I have facial hair. But certainly opposition to voter ID doesn't cause facial hair,” he said. [Talking Points Memo, 9/8/11]
PolitiFact: Suggesting That Voter ID Caused Increased Georgia Voter-Of-Color Turnout “Is A Logical Fallacy.” In pushing a strict voter ID bill in Ohio in 2011, state Republicans claimed that not only did the Georgia voter ID law not “dissuade black voters from participating,” and one said it was “helpful,” a claim debunked by PolitiFact Ohio:
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Mecklenborg of Cincinnati, pointed to totals in Georgia that showed an increase in voting among all racial groups following adoption of a voter ID law.
“The African-American vote in Georgia has increased dramatically -- five times the amount of the white vote,” he said.
“Had there been a contrary result, we might have taken a different position on the bill,” House Speaker William G. Batchelder said March 23 at a news conference. “Had this dissuaded black voters from participating, we might have taken a totally different look at it. It hasn't, it doesn't, and apparently, if you do cause and effect in that state, it's been helpful.”
Was the photo ID requirement the cause of the increase, as Batchelder suggested?
Batchelder's office didn't get back to us. We put the question to William Minozzi, an assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University, who examined the effects of voter ID [laws] in a study published last fall.
“Correlation does not imply causation,” he said. Georgia's increased voter participation is “the result of a lot of different things. I think you could call this cherry-picking.”
“It's an obviously specious argument,” said law professor Daniel Tokaji, associate director of Ohio State University's Election Law @ Moritz project, who testified against the photo-ID bill. “A lot of things affect turnout. The last two election cycles are ones in which the Democratic base has been extraordinarily motivated.” [PolitiFact Ohio, 4/4/11]
And Reports Suggest The Law Did Harm Potential Wisconsin Voters
ThinkProgress: State Law Created Long Lines At Polls, Likely Barring Voters From Casting Their Ballot. An April 5 ThinkProgress article reported that strict voter ID laws caused massive lines at Wisconsin's Marquette Law School, forcing some students to leave before they could vote:
Many students who had come on their lunch break left when they saw the line, saying they had to go to class and would try to come back later. Polls close at 8 p.m., and volunteers with the League of Women Voters told ThinkProgress they were concerned some students would not be able to return.
While dozens of students stood waiting to vote, the longer wait was for same-day registration -- an especially important step for students, who tend to have a new address every year. Students who did not have a Wisconsin drivers license or passport had to wait in yet another line to acquire a voter ID, since Wisconsin's lawdoes not accept student IDs issued by most of the schools colleges and universities. [ThinkProgress, 4/5/16]
MSNBC's Jacob Soboroff: People Were Potentially Discouraged To Vote Because Of Voter ID Hurdles. In the April 5 edition of MSNBC's The Place for Politics, MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff reported that at the University of Wisconsin there were “limited people voting” at the end of the day, potentially due to “the voter registration issue and the voter ID issue” :
JACOB SOBOROFF: Hey, Brian. Straight up, got to tell you guys first and foremost, we are not seeing the long lines. Come over here. This is where some shorter lines were earlier today at this location. But we're not seeing lines at the biggest university in the state of Wisconsin. We're seeing some limited same-day registration right here. And the question is, in Bernie Sanders stronghold, is this not a good sign for Bernie Sanders who was polling about 10 points ahead in this area. We can actually check the tally of the overall votes at this location right now. The big question to ask is, is this because of the voter registration issue and the voter ID issue. We've got 1,607 voters at this location at one of the busiest places at a school with 43,000 people. Limited people voting here at the end of the day. And again, the issue is everybody that wanted to vote that goes to this school could not use their school-issued school ID. What this is, is a voter ID issued by the school. Students were able to come and pick this up. Again, what I need to stress here is, that we are not seeing these long lines. And potentially, that's because people were discouraged because they couldn't find these. [MSNBC, The Place for Politics, 4/5/16]
The Nation's Ari Berman: “Wisconsin's Voter ID Law Caused Major Problems At The Polls.” The Nation's Ari Berman reported that the state's ID law impacted multiple voters around the states, including minorities and college students who spent “hours to cast a ballot at schools like Marquette, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.” Berman highlighted the story of Marine veteran Dennis Hatten who struggled for months to get an ID so he could vote, and noted that many “left the polls because of the long lines or didn't get to vote because of the voter ID law” :
[Dennis] Hatten spent months trying to get a voter ID and then had to make multiple trips to the polls to vote. Meanwhile, students waited hours to cast a ballot at schools like Marquette, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Others left the polls because of the long lines or didn't get to vote because of the voter ID law.
His Election Day experience didn't go much more smoothly. Hatten brought his state photo ID with him to the polls, but the address on it didn't match the address of his new apartment, which the poll workers needed to register him at his new polling site. While he was conferring with the poll worker, another man who tried to register and vote with his veterans ID, which does not contain an address, was turned away from the polls.
Hatten left the polling site, retrieved a utility bill with his new address, and returned a second time to vote. This time he was able to cast a ballot. It took six months for him to get a photo ID for voting, two trips to the polls and an hour to vote. “I've never had any problems voting until I came to Wisconsin,” he said.
Student IDs for most universities are not accepted by the Wisconsin legislature, so schools like Marquette had to print new voter IDs for students. In addition, students needed to bring proof of address to register and proof of enrollment to vote, which slowed everything down.
Martha Pincus of the League of Women Voters said she observed multiple students at Marquette, leave without voting because of the long lines. They said things like "'you talk about voter disenfranchisement, this is what happened here,'" and "'I skipped one class, I can't skip another,'" Pincus told me.
When the polls closed at 8 pm, there were still 240 students in line. Katherine Murray, a senior, was the last to vote at 9:45, nearly two hours after the polls closed. If Wisconsin did not have Election Day registration, hundreds of students would have been turned away. [The Nation, 4/6/16]
Voter ID Laws Have Disproportionately Disenfranchised Minorities
Latin Post: Latinos And African-Americans Are Affected By Voting Restrictions “More Than Other Ethnic Groups.” In an April 5 report, the Latin Post explained why, ahead of the Wisconsin primaries, ethnic minority advocates were worried about the disenfranchising effect the state's voter ID laws could have on local Latinos and African-Americans. The article noted that those groups are affected by voting restrictions “more than other ethnic groups,” often because they lack the resources to access adequate IDs, or lack necessary information on how to acquire them. According to the Post:
The biggest problem with Wisconsin's stricter voter law isn't how it disproportionately affected minorities and the impoverished, or how they jump deterrent hoops for rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The experience leaves potential voters disenfranchised.
“Our community doesn't have the information. There hasn't been a lot of information provided on how easy this is,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “A lot of people don't know where to go.”
Some aren't aware that they already had an acceptable ID, others give up on the process altogether.
Up to 300,000 Wisconsin voters did not possess a valid ID for the 2012 presidential election, according to a study executed by University of Georgia professor M.V. Hood III. A second report found the number closer to 350,000 residents. Nearly one-third of voters live in Milwaukee County, which houses about 113,000 Latinos, or 39.5 percent of the state's Hispanic population.
Latinos are the fastest-growing voter base in the country, yet voting restrictions appear to affect them and African-Americans more than other ethnic groups. [Latin Post, 4/5/16]
ACLU: Minorities Are “Statistically Less Likely To Possess An Accepted Photo ID.” A 2012 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report by statisticians from the research firm Latino Decisions found that voters in Milwaukee County, WI, “are statistically less likely to possess an accepted photo ID,” with African-Americans “182 percent less likely” and Hispanics “206 percent less likely” to have ID than white voters:
As compared to eligible White voters, African American and Latino eligible voters in Milwaukee County are statistically less likely to possess an accepted photo ID.
Eligible African American voters are 182 percent less likely to possess an accepted photo ID, than are whites. Eligible Latino voters are 206 percent less likely to possess an accepted photo ID, than are whites.
Eligible Latino voters are statistically more likely to lack any documentary proof of citizenship, as compared to whites, and therefore less likely to have the necessary underlying documents to obtain an original Wisconsin DMV product.
As compared to eligible white voters, eligible African American and Latino voters are statistically less likely to both lack an accepted photo ID, and also lack the necessary underlying documents to obtain an original Wisconsin DMV product, creating a double burden for Blacks and Latinos.
Overall 2.4 percent of eligible white voters lack an accepted photo ID, and also lack the required underlying documents to obtain an original Wisconsin DMV product. In comparison, 4.5 percent of eligible Black voters lack an accepted ID and lack the ability to obtain one, and 5.9 percent of eligible Latino voters lack an accepted ID and lack the ability to obtain one. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/23/12]
Advancement Project's Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez: Alabama Voter ID Laws “Overwhelmingly” Affected African-Americans. While appearing as a guest on the October 4 edition of MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, the Advancement Project's voter protection program director, Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, explained how voter ID laws in Alabama affected access to the polls for African Americans (emphasis added):
DORIAN WARREN (GUEST HOST): Here on MPH as part of our reporting on the electorate's right to be heard and represented, we make it a point to track concerns about voter suppression, which is why this week we turn our attention to Alabama, where voting just became that much harder in 28 counties. This week the Alabama state legislature had to figure out how to slash its budget ahead of next fiscal year. The solution -- fewer parks, five state parks would be closed, fewer National Guard armories, and 31 fewer offices that provide driver's licenses. Now, this might sound like a simple, local inconvenience, but the decision could actually result in voter disenfranchisement for many members of the community. Because of a 2011 state bill that made driver's licenses or special photo IDs a requirement for voting, the office closures make the path to the ballot box that much harder for the quarter million registered Alabama voters who don't have the required IDs. And minority communities could be hit the hardest. Of the 10 counties with the highest percentages of non-white registered voters, eight will see their driver's license offices closed. In fact, all counties where black citizens comprise 75 percent of registered voters will no longer have a driver's license office.
Joining me from Washington, D.C., is the Advancement Project's director of the voter protection programs Katherine Culliton-González. Katherine, what are the possible courses of action for Alabama citizens whose votes might be hampered by this decision?
KATHERINE CULLITON-GONZÁLEZ: I would say the most important course of action is to continue to protest because this is something that is not going to be able to be changed one voter at a time. The state has clearly made a policy trying to disenfranchise certain blocks of voters. Over 500,000 people don't have the type of voter ID that Alabama is asking for. The majority are overwhelmingly African-American, and this latest move is only going to make it harder for African-Americans to vote. We need to make sure to continue to protest and tell the state to stop disenfranchising voters of color, as well as anyone else who doesn't have the ID. [MSNBC, Melissa Harris-Perry, 10/4/15]
Wash. Post: “Turnout Dropped At Least 1.9 Percentage Points In Kansas And 2.2 Percentage Points In Tennessee Thanks To” Voter ID Laws. The Washington Post blog The Fix reported that a Government Accountability Office report looked at the potential effect of voter ID laws on turnout and found that turnout decreased in Kansas and Tennessee “thanks to the laws.” Furthermore, the decrease was worse among people of color, young voters, and newly registered voters:
In response to a request from a group of Democratic senators, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office analyzed the effect of voter ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee on 2012 turnout. Their findings? Turnout dropped at least 1.9 percentage points in Kansas and 2.2 percentage points in Tennessee thanks to the laws. By our calculations, that's 122,000 fewer votes.
The 200-plus-page report looks at several issues related to laws aimed at tightening rules around voting. The GAO compiled detailed data on various demographic groups in states that changed their laws, reviewed past studies on the effects of new laws on turnout, and attempted to gather data on instances of voter fraud, the rationale usually provided for changing voting rules. Democrats counter that the laws are thinly veiled efforts to reduce the number of their supporters that vote, by adding additional obstacles to black and young voters.
The GAO report suggests that, intentional or not, that's what happened in Kansas and Tennessee.
According to data from the states ... turnout dropped 5.5 percentage points overall in Kansas and 4.5 percent in Tennessee. With registered voter pools of about 1.77 million and 4 million, respectively, that means that 34,000 Kansans and 88,000 Tennesseans likely would have voted if the new laws weren't in place.
The effects of the change weren't evenly distributed.
Young people, black people, and newly registered voters were the groups that were more likely to see bigger drops in turnout. [The Washington Post, The Fix, 10/9/14]
CityLab: New Study Finds Voter ID Laws Exacerbate Gap Between White Voter Turnout And Minority Voter Turnout. CityLab on February 5 reported on a University of California, San Diego study that found that “no other demographic has as much difficulty as black and brown voters under [voter ID] laws” :
[A] trio of political scientists at the University of California San Diego say they're getting closer to the truth about the impact of voter ID laws: “For Latinos, Blacks, and multi-racial Americans there are strong signs that strict photo identification laws decrease turnout.”
This was a key finding in a new working paper from UCSD researchers Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi, and Lindsay Nielson, who compared voter turnout rates between states with voter ID laws and those without. According to their analysis, no other demographic has as much difficulty as black and brown voters under these laws. “The results are clear,” the researchers state plainly in the paper.
Their study shows how wide the racial gaps are in voter turnout between states with and without voter ID requirements. Looking at general election outcomes from 2008 to 2012, the researchers found that Latino turnout was 10.3 points lower in states where photo ID is necessary to vote than for Latinos in states where it is not. For primary elections, they found that states with strict photo voter ID laws depressed Latino turnout by 6.3 points compared to Latinos in non-voter ID states, and depressed African-American turnout by 1.6 points.
When looking at the voter turnout rates between whites and non-whites under voter ID laws, the guidelines continued to have a dampening effect. White voters already generally cast ballots at higher rates than Latino and black voters in most states, but that imbalance is intensified by voter ID requirements. In states where ID is not needed to vote, the gap between white and Latino turnout rates is just 5.3 percent in general elections. But that number jumps to 11.9 percent in states that do require ID. There's a 4.8 percent gap between black and white turnout in non-voter ID states compared with a 8.5 percent gap between black and white voters in voter ID states. [CityLab, 2/5/16]