As the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court prepares to hear another challenge to the state’s voter ID requirement, a new study reveals that across the country, voter ID laws disproportionately affected young minority voters in the 2012 elections.
While just over half of white youth were asked for identification, election officials asked 60.8 percent of Latino and 72.9 percent of black youth voters for ID in November. Similar disparities existed for photo ID, which is required by law to vote in many states, and in states with no voter ID law.
“Race should never play a role in who gets to vote, or who is asked for ID in order to vote,” said American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania associate director Sara Mullen in an email.
The study, conducted by Cathy Cohen of the University of Chicago and Jon Rogowski of Washington University in St. Louis, also revealed that 17.3 percent of non-voting blacks cited lack of proper identification as their reason for not voting, over three times the 4.7 percent of whites who had the same explanation.
The findings echoed the concerns of opponents to Pennsylvania’s law that the requirement would have a disparate impact on minority voters, since they tend to possess the proper ID at lower rates than white voters.
“Youth of color are, legally or not, asked for their voter ID,” said Kathleen Unger, the president of VoteRiders, a nonprofit voting rights organization.
Unger and assistant political science professor Marc Meredith were not surprised by the results.
“The one thing that people don’t always think about when studying or forming their opinions of voter ID laws is that its ultimately the responsibility of election workers to implement,” Meredith said. “And election workers are not always very trained and have a lot of discretion of how they want to apply these laws.”
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson issued an injunction in October, preventing election officials from implementing the state’s ID requirement in last November’s election. An earlier study by Cohen and Rogowski identified the impact the law could have on an election in the state if implemented.
“If Pennsylvania’s photo identification law is upheld by the State Supreme Court, the 37,000 to 44,000 young people of color who may stay home or be denied the right to vote could certainly be a deciding factor in the state’s presidential contest,” they wrote.
The recent study was not without its detractors. Mullen said she would have to further understand its methodology to comment on its validity, specifically citing that first-time voters are required to show some form of ID.
“My one critique of the study is that it’s a little hard to think about the effects of voter ID laws by thinking about who has IDs before the law goes into place,” Meredith said. “You would think that after the law goes into place it’ll likely have an effect on who goes and gets an ID.”
Unger said that the study demonstrates that there remain impediments to voters’ “constitutional right” to vote.
“Nobody is disputing the importance of the integrity of elections,” she said, in response to claims that voter ID laws can mitigate voter fraud. “But basically what these states have done is impose an unfunded mandate on eligible, qualified American citizens without giving these citizens the assistance they need.”
Meredith added that while it is difficult to adequately measure the impact of voter ID laws because there has only been one election season with a large number of states enforcing voter ID laws, he looks forward to future research.
“While I’m not that hopeful that the research will affect what policies are in place,” he said, “its still a good idea to collect as much information as possible on the topic.”
The Commonwealth Court has scheduled a trial date on Pennsylvania’s law for July 15. Should there be an appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could make a final ruling later this year.
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