Liberal heads exploded in ecstasy in January when a study from a trio of researchers came out from UC San Diego, Michigan State University, and Bucknell University stating Voter ID laws had a discriminatory impact on turnout. In particular, the study found “Hispanics are affected the most: Turnout is 7.1 percentage points lower in general elections and 5.3 points lower in primaries in strict ID states than it is in other states. Strict ID laws mean lower African American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout as well. White turnout is largely unaffected.”
But now, a new study refutes the findings of the January study. Specifically, along methodological and interpretive lines. For example, the authors of the January study used Cooperative Congressional Election Studies (CCES) data from 2006-2014. Well, turns out the data from 2006 was flawed as CCES data shows turnout was 10 points lower than actual in 15 states. The authors used it regardless. In addition, they used questionable data from Virginia in 2008.
In addition, the January researchers failed to control for common-sense variables that could impact results. For example, the study found states that “will” implement Voter ID laws had six percent lower turnout than states without. In other words, they found projected lower turnout in states that had “not” implemented Voter ID laws but categorized the result as a consequence of ID laws. Huh? These findings and others indicate we do not know the consequence of Voter ID laws on minority turnout.
This won’t stop the liberal group-think they do. Liberals will turn to the anecdotal evidence of a few old and current GOP pols and strategists to argue the laws are racist in their intent. To note a famous example, in 2012, after the GOP controlled legislature in Pennsylvania passed Voter ID laws the Senate Majority Leader said it would win them the election. See, proof of racism right there. Or not.
What few liberals, many Americans, and increasingly the courts, are struggling to come to grips with is how racially polarized are elections are (particularly in the South). Indeed, many of the lawsuits over redistricting, Voter ID laws and racist intent focus on Southern states.
There have been a number of significant lawsuits and rulings of late starting with the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling to invalidate Section V of the Voting Rights Act. Backers of the section argued it limited the impact of racism because the South’s racist nature had not changed. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, found such an argument to be foolish. To argue the South had not changed in 50 years and neither should laws stretched reality. But, more importantly, the court was trying to grapple with how to untie race and partisanship.
Disentangling these two factors has become increasingly difficult. Liberals would argue race is at the heart of every major action taken by Southern GOP pols. But, if blacks vote 90 percent Democrat does it not make sense from a partisan prospective to try and limit their impact?
Such a debate has impacted several court rulings (past and present). In 2011, a District Court in San Antonio found the Texas legislature had discriminated when they drew Congressional lines. The District Court attempted to draw new lines only to be rebuked by the Supreme Court which found the remedy did not match the crime. Now, almost seven years later, the same court yet again found the Texas Congressional lines were discriminatory. Yet again, the State of Texas is appealing to the Supreme Court.
North Carolina’s legislative maps are in a similar dynamic. Earlier this year, a federal court found that 28 of the state’s legislative districts were drawn with racial intent and the remedy was to have the state spend millions on special elections in 2017. The Supreme Court, however, put a stay on the elections while they decide whether to review the case. North Carolina already had its original Congressional district lines invalidated in 2011. The new map, used since last year, faces yet another lawsuit along racial lines.
For decades, courts have straddled these racial/partisan divides. It was easy until the 90’s because many rural whites and blacks voted for Congressional Democrats. But, as rural whites have increasingly become partisan Republicans the politicians drawing the lines have sought to take advantage.
Going back to 2013, the Supreme Court sought to find a middle ground in their repeal of Section V. They found it prohibitive to punish states for actions 50 years ago but they did not set a clear, legal standard for what constituted a racial vs. partisan gerrymander.
The Court came closer when it ruled in 2015 against Alabama for a racial gerrymander of several legislative districts. In their findings, the Supreme Court found the lower court should have examined the case on a district by district basis and not a statewide basis.
Similarly, the Supreme Court remanded back to a lower court in Virginia a lawsuit alleging 11 majority-black districts were discriminatory. The Supreme Court did not find them discriminatory, but rather told the district court to make its decision on a district by district basis and consider all factors in the case (racially intentioned or not).
Through it all, the court has tried to not set a single, unifying standard for what is racially discriminatory and what is not. Unique factors are involved in all these cases. For example, while Alabama’s legislative maps (and Voter ID law for that matter) were passed along partisan lines in Virginia the maps were passed on a bipartisan basis. Only now has it been discovered the maps were drawn with racial intent.
Where am I going with all these examples? Well, partisanship and race are closely intertwined in the South (and lots of other places for that matter). As the courts are discovering, disentangling this mess is no easy task.
Voter ID laws more than legislative redistricting are even tougher to figure out. On the left, as mentioned above, it is taken as gospel Voter ID laws are discriminatory in nature and intent. But, few studies actually exist to prove this point.
In fact, more data exists that Voter ID laws actually do not impact racial turnout. Consider, Georgia passed a Voter ID law all the way back in 2004 and a more stringent one in 2013. In every election since 2004, black and Hispanic turnout has increased. In North Carolina, since 2011 when a Voter ID law was passed black turnout has increased year over year. It seems the left objects more to the idea of Voter ID laws than their impacts.
Studies such as one in Pennsylvania, conducted in 2012, which found 758,000 registered voters lacked a Photo ID fuel the left’s anger at these laws. But, Nate Cohn, not a conservative by any means, finds the partisan and racial impact of Voter ID laws is actually much smaller than discussed.
Writing for the New York Times, Nate Cohn, citing a study for the North Carolina Board of Elections found the number of voters without a Photo ID is usually overestimated due to the methodology used to calculate such findings. Additionally, voters without Photo ID are much less likely to vote even if they had Photo IDs based on their past electoral activities (or lack thereof).
Cohn concludes by findings that there is a positive correlation between Voter ID laws and a disparate impact on Democratic leaning groups. Voters without an ID in North Carolina broke Democratic by a 37 point margin. But, 22 percent of voters without a Photo ID were also registered Republicans. If the intent was to disenfranchise “only” the other side, would it not make sense to get these voters Photo IDs.
Partisan actions are nothing new in our system and more often than not have been found to be perfectly legal. Racially discriminatory actions not so much. But if partisanship and race are so closely tied together how are the two separated?
There are no good answers for this question. Liberals will argue any action with a racial impact is illegal and they will likely cite anecdotal and biased evidence to support their case. But there just is not enough data to back up their assertions that partisan actions are racially based. Until they come up with some strong evidence they are unlikely to notch many victories in the courts or in public opinion.
Courts are not going to try to make a broad, generalized ruling on the issue (see Supreme Court rulings above) and the public generally supports Voter ID laws in theory. Why does it not make sense to present a freely offered, Photo ID at the polls? With minority turnout increasing in the states the left argues most practice discrimination they are only convincing those that already agree with them. That is not a recipe for success.