It’s not lack of an ID but the `uninformed and misinformed state of the Texas non-voting electorate’ that tamps down turnout

(A voter ID ad being used as part of the voter education campaign by the office of Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos.)

Good day Austin:

Voter ID in Texas is back in the news.

As Chuck Lindell reported in today’s Statesman:

The Texas voter ID law was enacted in 2011 with the intent to discriminate against minority voters, a federal judge ruled Monday, handing the Republican-backed measure another in a string of legal defeats.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos dismissed Republican assertions that the voter identification law was intended to combat fraud, calling that rationale a “pretext” to suppress the voting rights of Hispanics and African-Americans, who overwhelmingly support Democrats.

“There was no substance to the justifications offered for the draconian terms of SB 14,” the Corpus Christi judge said, concluding that the law known as Senate Bill 14 violated the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

Ramos’ ruling followed a July decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the law had an improper and disproportionate impact on minority voters because they were less likely to have an acceptable government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, U.S. passport or state handgun permit.

The appeals court returned the case to Ramos, who originally declared the law unconstitutional in 2014, to determine whether the voter ID law was intentionally written to be discriminatory.

On Monday, Ramos said it was — a conclusion she had also reached in 2014.

As Lindell reported back in August, Ramos had temporarily revised the voter ID rules for 2016:

Softening a strict Texas voter ID law that had been found to be discriminatory, a federal judge Wednesday ordered the state to accept a wide range of identification for the November general election.

Texans without a photo ID will be able to cast ballots by showing bank statements, utility bills and other forms of identification, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said, accepting without change an agreement over how to handle the Nov. 8 election that had been reached last week by state officials, the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights groups.

As part of Ramos’ order, the Texas secretary of state’s office was required to implement a $2.5 million voter education campaign to inform voters about these alternative forms of identification.

That voter education campaign did not succeed, according to a new study released Monday by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs – The Texas Voter ID Law and the 2016 Election: A Study of Harris County and Congressional District 23. The study found that there were exceedingly few potential voters who did not have one of the ID’s that would have made them eligible to vote in 2016.

The study revealed that what really inhibited some voters not to participate was not their lack of an ID that would have met the requirements of the law as it applied to the 2016 election, but confusion over that law, confusion that a wholly inadequate state voter education campaign by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office failed to allay.

And, while this is not part of the study. an argument can also be made that an unintended consequence of  the intense Democratic outrage about Republican voter ID efforts, is to reinforce those efforts by creating precisely the atmosphere that inhibits participation because potential voters assume the requirement is more onerous than it actually is.

The principal investigators for the new study were Mark Jones, of University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs & Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, and Renée Cross and Jim Granato, both of the Hobby School of Public Affairs.

From Mark Jones yesterday.

One of the lessons is that only one to two percent of these registered voters who didn’t turn out to participate – so they represent about half the (potential) voters in the election – only between one to two percent didn’t have one of the state-approved forms of ID that they would have needed to  to vote last fall. And if you dig deeper, you found that only one out of 819 people surveyed fit the category of not having a photo ID and saying the lack of a photo ID is the principal reason they didn’t turn out to vote.

From the study:

Virtually all registered voters in Harris County and CD -23 who did not participate in the November 2016 election possessed one of the state approved forms of photo ID needed to cast a vote in person. All together, 97.4% and 97.8% of non-voters in Harris County and CD-23 possessed an unexpired state- approved photo ID, with these proportions rising to 98.5% and 97.9% when photo IDs that had expired within the previous four years were considered (in 2016 IDs that had expired within four years of the voting date could be used to vote in person).

The most common photo ID held by non-voters was a Texas driver license, with 82.9% and 84.1% of Harris County and CD-23 non-voters possessing an unexpired Texas driver license. Among those between the ages of 18 and 25 (who in theory would be the principal beneficiaries of an expansion of the forms of state approved ID to include public college and university IDs), 97.4% and 97.5% of Harris County and CD-23 non-voters possessed an unexpired state approved photo ID, rising to 100% in Harris County (and remaining at 97.5% in CD -23) when expired IDs were considered.

Approximately three-fifths of non-voters in Harris County (58.8%) and CD-23 (63.6%) agreed that one of the reasons they did not vote was because they didn’t like the candidates or the issues, making it the reason for not voting with the highest level of agreement in both locales. At the other end of the continuum, approximately one in seven non-voters in Harris County (16.5%) and CD-23 (14.8%) signaled a lack of possession of a state approved photo ID as one of the reasons they did not participate in the 2016 election. Among this sub-set of non-voterswhose nonparticipation was attributed at least in part to the photo ID requirements, approximately two-thirds of those with a preference would have voted for the Democratic candidates in the Harris County District Attorney and Sheriff races and in the CD-23 race.

This suggests that had these individuals participated , the Democratic candidates in the former two contests would have enjoyed even larger margins of victory and the Democratic candidate in CD-23, Pete Gallego, would have defeated his Republican rival, Will Hurd, instead of losing to Hurd by 1.3% of the vote

 However, when pressed to give the principal reason why they did not cast a ballot in 2016, only 1.5% and 0.5% of non-voters in Harris County and CD-23 identified a lack of a state-approved photo ID as the principal reason they did not vote. Among this handful of non-voters, 86% actually possessed an approved form of photo ID, while 14% did not. While the photo ID law at least partially discouraged some people from voting, an actual lack of a state approved photo ID kept virtually no one (only one non-voter among the 819 surveyed) from turning out to vote in 2016.

 

 

Once again in 2016, Texas had among the most abysmal voter turnout rates in the country.

Jones and his colleagues did a comparable study,’albeit limited to CD-23, in 2014, with similar findings:

This study suggests that the most significant impact of the Texas voter photo ID law on voter participation
in CD – 23 in November 2014 was to discourage turnout among registered voters who did indeed possess an approved form of photo ID, but through some combination of misunderstanding, doubt or lack of knowledge, believed that they did not possess the necessary photo identification. The disjuncture between the proportion of voters who listed a lack of an ID as a reason or the principal reason they did not vote
and the proportion of these individuals who actually did not have an ID highlights the potential for a future voter education campaign to clearly explain the types of photo identification required to cast a vote in person in Texas
 
This education campaign however needs to be designed based on a comprehensive study targeted at understanding the sources and causes of confusion which resulted in so many Texans believing they did not have a required form of photo ID when in reality they actually did. This study also examines the potential impact of the Texas voter photo ID law on the outcome of the 2014 election in CD -23. It
suggests that the presence of the law kept far more Gallego than Hurd supporters away from the polls last fall.
.
Comparing the two studies, Jones said yesterday:

I think last time we were pretty confident that if the voter ID law had not been in place, that  Pete Gallego would have won. I think this time it’s more , had the voter ID law not been in place, Pete Gallego might have won. The implication was that he was hurt by it, it’s just not clear that he was hurt by it by a magnitude that’s great enough to account for Hurd’s margin of victory. It certainly worked against him.

The most important thing, Jones said, is clarity.

The overwhelming is evidence is that most people have a photo ID.  It’s only a small percentage that don’t, and there is probably something about those people, which is why they don’t have a voter ID .Some of them don’t want to have an ID, or It’s  such  low priority that they are not going to go out and get one.

To make sure that the uninformed and misinformed voters of 2016 are not repeated in 2018  is to engage in a far more aggressive, transparent and robust education campaign statewide, so more registered voters are aware of what the rules are

The best thing the Legislature could do, Jones said, would be to keep the new rules as similar to the rules that were in place in 2016 instead of making changes that would only sow further confusion.

From the new study:

Only one in five non-voters in Harris County (21.1%) and CD-23 (17.9%) could accurately identify the photo ID rules in effect for the 2016 election. Three in five non-voters in both jurisdictions(58.4% and 59.7%) incorrectly believed that all voters were required to provide a state approved form of photo ID to vote in person, unaware that voters who did not possess a photo ID could still vote if they signed an affidavit and provided one of several supporting documents. In both Harris County and CD-23, Latino non-voters (15.1%and 14.8%) were significantly less likely than Anglo non-voters (24.3% and 27.6%) and, in Harris County, than African American non-voters (27.9%) , to accurately understand the photo ID rules governing the 2016 election. Latino non-voters in both locales also were significantly more likely than Anglo (and

in Harris County, African American) non- voters to believe that the 2016 photo ID rules were more restrictive than they actually were. Three out of four Harris County (74.2%) and CD-23 (75.1%) non-voters incorrectly believed that only an unexpired Texas driver license qualified as a state approved form of photo ID to vote in person in 2016.

A mere 14.4% and 13.8% of non-voters in these two jurisdictions were aware that in 2016 an expired Texas driver license could also be used as long as it had expired within the past four years. In Harris County, Latinos (82.4%) were significantly more likely than Anglos (72.3%) to believe they could only use an unexpired Texas driver license as a form of photo ID to vote in person in 2016. In CD -23 there were however no significant differences between Latino (75.4%) and Anglo (76.8%) non-voters.

The survey data clearly indicate that non-voters in Harris County and CD-23 did not have a good understanding of the voter photo ID rules in force for the 2016 election. Only one in five non -voters were aware that it was possible for registered voters who did not possess one of the seven state approved forms of photo ID to still vote in person by signing an affidavit and providing one of many easily obtainable supporting documents. And, only one in seven non- voters knew that an expired (within four years) Texas driver license qualified as a state approved photo ID for the purposes of voting in person in 2016.

The uninformed and misinformed state of the Texas non-voting electorate in 2016 highlights the need for a more robust state-sponsored voter education campaign to increase public knowledge regarding the photo ID rules that will be in effect in 2018 when Texans vote in races to choose elected officials for positions ranging from U.S. senator and governor to county judge and constable.

 Of voter education, Jones said:

You can’t expect the state to do on its own.  You probably do need media outlets, civic society, the parties, all playing their role but the state is the first mover because, in the end, the state’ss the one that’s in charge of running the elections and it’s the state that’s decided to change the rules of the game. If you’re changing the rules of the game about how people vote, then the burden is on you to make sure voters understand  the changes and how they are gong to participate in the process.

Democrats are naturally incensed by what they consider Republican machinations to use voter ID laws to reduce Democratic turnout, particularly among Hispanic voters.

But there is a danger that Democratic efforts to turn Republican voter ID efforts into a campaign issue can actually have the perverse consequence of enhancing the impact of those efforts.

For Republicans, Jones said:

If you’re lucky Democrats will fall into your trap and start a public relations campaign about how Republicans have adopted a draconian voter ID law designed to disenfranchise Latino voters which will then  result in a subset of Latino voters believing they do not have the right ID and therefore not turning out.

I think that was a trap that Democrats fell into in 2014 because they tried to make so much hay out of a broad-based Republican strategy designed to disenfranchise minorities  that they  used language like, `this was the strictest voter ID law in the country,’ so that they may very well scared off a set of voters who actually had the approved IDs they just were worried about, they’re saying this new ID law  and if you have Republicans saying you can be arrested for fraud, then maybe I shouldn’t, and it’s not a large number of people but one or two percent, that can be consequential in places like CD 23.

I think the further peril for Democrats is an inflated sense of just how consequential voter ID laws are in reducing Democratic turnout. If you listen to a lot of Democratic rhetoric, voter ID laws are the return of Jim Crow. It isn’t, and most Americans don’t think it is.

Moreover, some of the research purporting to show a large impact is suspect.

From German Lopez at Vox ‘on March 15: A major study finding that voter ID laws hurt minorities isn’t standing up well under scrutiny. A follow-up study suggests voter ID laws may not have a big effect on elections.

It was supposed to be the study that proved voter ID laws are not just discriminatory but can also have a big impact on elections. And it was picked up widely, with outlets including ThinkProgress and the Washington Post reporting that the study found voter ID laws hurt Hispanic voters in particular and skewed elections to the right.

But a follow-up study suggests the findings in the original were bunk. According to researchers at Stanford, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania, the original study was based on surveys of voters that are extremely unreliable — skewing the results. On top of that, several calculation errors led to even more problems. When the errors are corrected, the follow-up researchers found, there’s no evidence in the analyzed data that voter ID laws have a statistically significant impact on voter turnout.

In other words, it’s possible that voter ID laws still have an impact on elections, but the original study just doesn’t have the data to prove it.

The findings aren’t too surprising. Looking at the broader research, the empirical evidence has tended to find that voter ID laws have a small impact on elections. While they still may be racially discriminatory or unnecessary, ultimately voter ID laws may not have a strong enough effect on voter turnout, based on the available research so far, to swing anything but the closest election. And the newest study backs that up.

 An earlier piece in November by German at Vox: The silver lining of voter ID laws: they aren’t effective at suppressing the vote. That doesn’t make these laws less racist.

There is little doubt at this point that voter ID laws are discriminatory. Many Republicans, who have pushed these laws in recent years, have admitted as much. Studies show the laws have a disproportionate impact on black and brown voters. And there is a very long history of voter suppression against black voters in the US. All of this adds up to what’s fairly described as a constitutional crisis depriving people of their most fundamental democratic right.

But there’s some good news: Despite Republican legislators’ best attempts to suppress minority voters, study after study has found that voter ID laws have little to no effect on voter turnout. At worst, the effect is small — barely detectable even in studies that employ multiple controls. At best, there’s no effect at all or even an increase.

That doesn’t, of course, mean that the laws are okay. The intent behind the laws is still clearly abhorrent — with some Republicans admitting that they are meant to suppress minority voters. The good news is that so far the intent, no matter how bad, hasn’t led to the effect Republican lawmakers apparently desire.

The research suggests voter ID laws have a tiny effect on elections. Studies on voter ID laws are surprisingly consistent: No matter what, the effect seems to be fairly small.

 

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