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Report: Voter ID laws reduce turnout more among African American and younger voters

Black voters are much more likely to vote in person before Election Day, while white voters are more likely to vote by absentee ballot. Graphic: Government Accountability Office
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Laws requiring voters to show identification when they cast a ballot impact have a greater impact on African Americans and younger voters than on other racial and age groups, according to a new analysis.

The report, issued Wednesday by the General Accounting Office [pdf], found that fewer African Americans have the types of identification — like a driver’s license or state-issued identification card — required to obtain a ballot than whites. As a consequence, turnout among African American voters fell by a larger percent than turnout among white voters in two states that implemented identification requirements between 2008 and 2012.

Black turnout dropped by 3.7 percentage points more than white turnout in Kansas, and by 1.5 percentage points more than whites in Tennessee after voter ID laws passed. Among 18 year olds, turnout dropped by 7.1 percentage points more in Kansas than it did among those aged 44 to 53 year-olds in Kansas. Turnout in Tennessee fell by 1.2 percentage points more among those aged 19 to 23 than among the older set.

The report came at the request of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), after a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year eliminated some parts of the Voting Rights Act. The senators said the report showed both the restrictive impacts of voter identification laws and the high costs of obtaining an identification.

“This report is even more proof that these state laws significantly suppress and discourage Americans from exercising their constitutionally protected right to vote,” Durbin said in a statement.

Studies the GAO analyzed found a significant number of voters across racial and age groups — between 5 and 20 percent — do not have identifications required to get a ballot, and minorities are disproportionately likely to lack those documents. One study found that only 79 percent of African Americans in Texas have a driver’s license, state-issued ID card or a gun permit, compared with 89 percent of whites. In Wisconsin, another study found 94 percent of eligible white voters had an identification, versus 85 percent of registered African Americans.

In recent years, Republican legislators have moved to establish new voter identification laws in states across the country, ostensibly to combat voter fraud. Democrats worry the laws disproportionately impact minorities and younger voters, voters who are most likely to back Democratic candidates.

New voter identification laws go into effect in states like Wisconsin this year, and in North Carolina in 2016. About 172,000 white voters and 107,000 black voters don’t have the appropriate identification to cast a ballot in North Carolina, the State Board of Elections found in a 2013 report.

Other studies of whether voter identification laws have an impact on turnout have come to mixed conclusions. Some have found no impact, while others have concluded identification laws decrease turnout by between 1 and 4 percentage points.

Identifications can cost between $14.50 and $58.50 in states that require documentation to vote, depending on where the cards are issued. Most states with voter identification laws provide ID cards for free for the purposes of voting, though Democrats say many of those states place substantial burdens on voters because licensing offices are so far away from their homes.

Republican legislators have also moved to cut early voting days or hours in states like North Carolina, Ohio and elsewhere. The GAO found African Americans are much more likely to use those early voting windows to cast their ballots than white voters, while white voters are more likely to use absentee ballots. In 2012, 13.1 percent of white voters cast ballots early in person, versus 18.3 percent who cast their vote by absentee. Among African Americans, 22.4 percent voted early in person, and just 9.2 percent voted by absentee.