Cleveland Plain Dealer Regurgitates Conservative Misinformation On Voting Rights

On the eve of the 47th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, an article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer relied on notorious voter fraud huckster Hans von Spakovsky and other dubious sources to continue to distort the debate over voter ID laws. Specifically, Von Spakovsky argued that voter ID laws do not affect minority turnout and suggested that, in fact, the opposite is true. From the article:

Von Spakofsky [sic], a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, says voting in both Georgia and Indiana increased dramatically in the states' presidential primaries and general presidential elections after photo ID laws went into place.

“In Indiana, which the U.S. Supreme Court said has the strictest voter ID law in the country, turnout in the Democratic presidential primary in 2008 quadrupled from the 2004 election when the photo ID law was not in effect,” von Spakofsky last year told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “According to Census Bureau surveys, 59.2 percent of the black voting-age population voted in the 2008 election compared to only 53.8 percent in 2004, an increase of over 5 percentage points.”

In reality, as has reported, such a conclusion cannot be drawn:

Von Spakovsky noted that “Georgia had the largest turnout of minority voters in its history,” and then drew the conclusion, “As shown by these data ... voter ID requirements can be easily met by almost all voters and do not have a discriminatory or disparate impact on racial minorities.” The message sent: Georgia 2008 voter turnout was good; therefore voter ID laws are good.

These are specious conclusions to draw at best because it relies on a non-existent causation or correlation between the implementation of the state's voter ID law and voter turnout without controlling for other factors such as the growth in voting age population and the growth in the number of people registered to vote during the same period.

I spoke with Charles S. Bullock III, the Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia who said that the state's voter ID law “is not a cause” for the increase in minority voter turnout and “that you can't build a case for a causal link” between the implementation of the voter ID law and the increase in minority voter turnout. In fact, voter turnout would have increased in Georgia in the 2008 presidential election with or without the voter ID law for a number of other factors, says Lubbock, including a “gradual increase” in the voting-age population of African Americans, and also the excitement around the possible election of the nation's first black president. But this does not mean that everyone was able to “easily” get an ID card. [...]

The Increase in Georgia's minority voter turnout was due to large increases in voter registration and the excitement around the Obama campaign, despite the voter ID law, but not because of it.

When PolitiFact Ohio asked political scientist William Minozzi whether the voter ID law in Georgia could have increased turnout, he called the claim “cherry-picking.” Another expert agreed:

“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.”

Both Minozzi and Tokaji cited the candidacy of Barack Obama, whose voter-registration drive in 2008 was called the largest in the history of presidential campaigns. The drive's biggest announced goal was in Georgia, where it aimed to register and turn out 500,000 unregistered African-American voters.

The actual increase from 2004 was 466,000, according to the secretary of state's office, which cited its own outreach program to get free ID cards to voters as a factor increasing turnout.

Moreover, the University of Georgia found evidence that Georgia's voter ID law lowered turnout “among people who lacked government photo IDs before the law took effect.”

Von Spakovsky is a relentless purveyor of falsehoods within the voter fraud debate, though he himself has acknowledged that there is no “massive fraud in American elections.” Turning to his testimony for expertise on election law policy is a mistake.

The Plain Dealer's other conservative sources fared no better on accuracy. Lamar Smith touted the false comparison between identification requirements for voting and ID requirements for cashing checks -- a claim that has been rejected by debaters on his own side. And a spokesman for Husted fell into the trap of conflating election fraud with in-person voter fraud -- a fact unchecked by the Plain Dealer's reporting.