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Yes, Voter ID Laws Are Nakedly Political

Tova Andrea Wang

Over the last three years, anyone who has followed the pitched battle over letting eligible American citizens vote or not should be familiar with the political dynamic behind it. Following the 2010 midterm elections when Republicans made major gains across the country, a tsunami of bills were introduced that were clearly designed to throw up obstacles to voting for traditionally Democratic constituencies: African Americans, low income people, immigrants, among others. Remarks made by a number of Republican officials — like Pennsylvania state House Republican leader Mike Turzai who came straight out and said the state’s voter ID law would “allow” Mitt Romney to win in 2012 — hardly helped make the objective behind these laws a secret.

Important new empirical research published in December in the journal Perspectives on Politics by Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. Obrien at the Univeristy of Massachusetts-Boston, however, shines a bright light on just how crass this effort has been and how clear the motives of the Republican state lawmakers have been in proposing and passing laws that would deny eligible citizens the right to vote.

Bentele and O’Brien remove any doubt about the racial motivations – which may coincide with partisan motivations – of the legislators who seek to restrict voting rights. They found in those states where minority turnout rose from the prior presidential election and where there were a larger percentage of minority voters in the years 2006 to 2011, the number of laws restricting voting rights proposed by lawmakers also went up. Similarly, in those states where the percentage of low-income voters rose, the response was to propose more laws making it harder to vote. In those states with a bigger African-American population, more restrictive legislation also passed and became law.