On March 15, I went to cast the first primary ballot of my life. But unlike when I voted in the general election in 2014, I had to plan ahead this time. This year, North Carolina enacted one of the most strict voter ID laws in the country. As a student from New Jersey who is registered to vote at my school in North Carolina, this created a problem for me. I had a few different options: sit in the DMV and get a North Carolina ID, vote absentee, or use my passport. Since I was going home for spring break the week before the primary contest, I was able to grab my passport. When I went to vote, everything went smoothly and I was able to cast my ballot. So while it did take some planning ahead, my vote still counted.
My experience made me wonder how many votes don’t count because of Voter ID requirements and what kind of effect the laws have on voter turnout. There isn’t any data yet on the North Carolina ID law, but similar laws have been passed in many states across the country. Before in the 2014 election, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a study on the effects of Voter ID laws on turnout. Here is what they found:
- Fewer minorities own state-issued IDs. Seven of nine studies that evaluated the voter ID law showed that in populations nationwide, and statewide in Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin showed African-Americans were less likely to have a state-issued ID than Whites. Seven of the studies showed the same result for Hispanics
- BUT, the jury is still out on whether Voter ID significantly affects turnout. Out of the 10 rigorous academic studies the GAO evaluated, 5 found that Voter ID laws had no statistically significant effect on voter turnout. 1 of the studies found an increase in voter turnout of 1.8 percent. 4 of the studies showed that Voter ID requirements decrease turnout, with the estimated decreases ranging from 1.5 to 3.9 percent.
There are many positives and negatives to Voter ID laws. Obviously, Voter ID laws aren’t an incentive to vote and will keep some people home on election day. The logic behind Voter ID laws is flawed, as in-person voter fraud is a non-existent problem. Yet, Voter ID requirements actually aren’t the biggest reason for decreased turnout. The data shows states that limit early voting actually have the biggest decreases in turnout. Politically Voter ID is advantageous for both sides, as the laws satisfy many Republicans and give Democrats a good political point to rally their base around.
Voter ID laws generally are an annoyance that voters will have to plan for. Indeed, using an ID to vote will be just like airport security: annoying and pointless, but a reality of life. Will Voter ID laws change anything? Probably not. They won’t hurt people like me. But, they will add an additional hurdle to voting for many of the poor and disadvantaged. They will change turnout rates in some elections in some states, but probably not enough to flip any major elections. So why have Voter ID? Why make it more challenging for people to vote for no reason? These laws lack a logical purpose and I hope both sides of the aisle can realize this and repeal Voter ID laws that will be at best annoying and at worst disenfranchising.