In an interview on “Fox and Friends” this past week, former Department of Justice attorney J. Christian Adams referred to a study from The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). The study looked at voter turnout from 2008 to 2016. Adams said the study showed that voter ID laws had absolutely no negative impact on voters.
As a college professor, I learned to research the research. To that end I bought a copy of the research paper: Strict ID Laws Don’t Stop Voters: Evidence from a U.S. Nationwide Panel, 2008-2016. The authors are Enrico Cantoni from the Department of Economics at the University of Bologna (Italy) and Vincent Pons, a Faculty Research Fellow at Harvard Business School. The NBER is a private, non-profit, non-partisan research organization that sponsors empirical research in four areas of economics including the assessment of the effects of public policies on the U.S. economy. That explains why an organization that researches economics has an interest in voter ID laws.
For research to be “official” it needs to be published in a “refereed journal.” That means that the research has been examined by other researchers to make sure that the methods used in the research meet professional standards and that the results of the research support the conclusions drawn by the authors. This particular research paper has not yet been “refereed” so it is currently listed as a “working paper.” The research may be totally valid, but other researchers have not yet verified it. All that is to say that some people who don’t like the results of the research are sure to complain that it is unverified work and is therefore unreliable. However, since professional reputations rely on quality work, no researcher wants to present research that does not follow strict standards or that can be discounted when experts go over it in detail. So it’s fair to say that this is most likely reliable data.
There are a few statements in the paper that will certainly garner howls of protest from some liberals. The authors state that “the very existence of stricter controls at polling places could be perceived as an improvement in election administration and increase voter confidence” which would in turn increase voter turnout. And the comment that will generate the most outrage in liberals is “the fears that strict ID requirements would disenfranchise disadvantaged populations have not materialized.” So you can take the dire complaint that voter ID laws disenfranchise poor and minority voters and toss it out the window.
The researchers gave a little history of voter ID laws. They note that until late in the 1800s, “political parties took advantage of the lack of control over the identity of people coming to vote. They hired large groups of ‘repeaters,’ who walked from one polling place to another and voted over and over again.” Thus in the 1890s states began combating voter fraud by requiring citizens to prove they were who they said they were and to sign a register – and those signatures could be compared with voter signatures on file. Also, registrars frequently purged their roles of nonresidents and voters who had died. This all sounds familiar because we are still fighting these same voter integrity battles 125 years later.
The researchers draw the conclusion that voter turnout could be enhanced not by loosening voter ID requirements, but by increasing the number of polling places. This would put polling places closer to the voters – especially helpful in large rural precincts and for people who do not have transportation to the polls – and by reducing the amount of time people have to wait in line before they can vote. This means that if liberals want to reduce suppression of legal voters, they need to insist on more polling places, not on removing voter ID laws. Voter ID laws only suppress the vote of illegal voters – something that we need to suppress all the way to zero.
The authors point out that some voter ID laws have only recently been passed so their research does not address the long-term affects of voter ID laws. That is a valid point. But it is fair to say that based on this rather exhaustive research, voter ID laws are not hurting turnout among legal voters – although those laws hopefully put a big dent in illegal voting.
We know that many liberals won’t listen to facts if those facts don’t support their preconceived notions. But we at least have some rather convincing research here that we can use to counter their “voter suppression” hysteria. We certainly want legal voters to register and to vote. It’s the illegal voters that we oppose.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.