A week after a federal judge upheld sweeping changes in North Carolina voting laws, The New York Times reported that studies focused on the centerpiece of the changes – the requirement of a photo ID to vote – have found that more than 1 in 10 adult Americans lack a government-issued ID and “compared with whites, the share of minorities without photo IDs is far higher.”
The Times story focused on elections in Texas where a voter ID law adopted in 2013 continues in effect pending appeal despite being struck down by courts three times. The story cites the campaign of former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, who lost his seat by a narrow margin that may well have reflected the effects of the photo ID law.
“It’s tremendously undemocratic in a democratic society when you deliberately disenfranchise thousands of people,” he said. “Turnout is good for the system.”
Voter ID requirements are in place in 33 states with at least 17 requiring a photo ID. And often the photo ID requirements are strictly limited. Prior to 2006, no state required identification in order to vote.
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North Carolina, seeking to avoid a court striking down one of the the nation’s strictest photo ID requirements, softened its law to allow for those with a “reasonable impediment” to obtaining a valid ID to vote after signing a form. The local board of elections then assesses whether the impediment was reasonable before deciding whether the vote should count.
In his opinion of April 25, U.S. District Judge Thomas Schroeder dismissed the suppressive effect of North Carolina’s voting changes by noting that voting by African-Americans increased after the law passed in 2013. He compared turnout in the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections but did not allow for the effect of a major Senate race in 2014 and the effect of African-Americans turning out to protest efforts to suppress minority voting. The photo ID change did not take effect until this year, but Schroeder said the “reasonable impediment” exception should mitigate any negative effect it may have of turnout.
But the Times quotes a voting expert who said the proper comparison is not between elections, but between states with and without photo ID requirements. Zoltan L. Hajnal, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, and the author of a study on photo ID laws and minority turnout, said, “We’re finding typically that strict voter ID laws double or triple the gap in turnout between whites and nonwhites.”