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What Was the Impact of Voter ID Laws?

Tova Wang

Requiring people to show government issued photo identification in order to vote is unnecessary, discriminatory and has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people.

Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all passed new strict photo ID laws in their 2011 or 2012 legislative sessions. As has been repeatedly demonstrated, requiring people to show government issued photo identification in order to vote is unnecessary, discriminatory and has the potential to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of people

The Department of Justice objected to the laws in Texas and South Carolina under the Voting Rights Act — those two states are covered by Section 5 of the Act and all changes in election procedures must be approved before they can be implemented. The states filed lawsuits to obtain approval of these laws in the federal district court for the District of Columbia, but the courts rejected those efforts, and blocked the photo ID laws from being implemented in the 2012 election. In the process, Texas’ own data showed that 795,955 registered voters did not have the ID required and these voters were disproportionately Latino and African American. South Carolina’s own statistics showed 239,000 registered voters in that state did not have the requisite ID. In Wisconsin the courts struck the law down as unconstitutional under the state constitution. In Pennsylvania the courts also said that the photo ID law passed there could not be implemented this year because the state had not taken the necessary steps to educate voters about the new requirements and ensure that people could obtain IDs. 

Therefore, four states had strict photo ID laws in force — Kansas, Georgia, Indiana, and Tennessee. We already know from past elections that many people have been disenfranchised by Indiana’s voter ID law, and we know that the voter ID law in Indiana impacts the ability of African Americans and Latinos in that state much more than other groups. Advocates fighting the Tennessee law estimate that 390,000 registered voters in that state do not have the picture ID now required to vote in that state. Yet the state hasonly “issued 20,923 state IDs for voting purposes.” Research will reveal what impact these laws had in 2012.

Then there was the problem of voter and poll worker confusion, especially in states such as Pennsylvania. In that state shortly before the election, the courts finally halted the state’s new ID law, yet the State continued running advertisements claiming ID would be required at the polls.

All of the polling places in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, posted signs saying that identification was required to vote. This was not true. An Allegheny County judge issued an order to halt electioneering outside a polling location in Homestead, Pennsylvania when it was found that Republicans outside a polling location were stopping people outside the polls and asking for identification.

As predicted by voting rights advocates, many voters across Pennsylvania encountered poll workers wrongfully requiring identification, turning some voters away or requiring them to vote provisional ballots