WV Center on Budget and Policy > Blog > West Virginia Has a Voting Problem, Voter ID Law Would Make it Worse

West Virginia Has a Voting Problem, Voter ID Law Would Make it Worse

West Virginia legislators are once again moving forward with a Voter ID law. Last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed HB 4013, which would require voters to show a photo ID before voting. Tomorrow the full House is expected to vote on the bill. While the proposed law is less strict than some Voter ID laws in other states, it is still a completely unnecessary law that does far more harm than good.

Voter ID laws are purported to be about stopping voter fraud. But Voter ID laws only stop one type of voter fraud, voter impersonation. And voter impersonation, when one person goes to the polls and votes while pretending to be someone else, is virtually non-existent. An analysis of voter fraud allegations found only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation in general, primary, special, and municipal elections since 2000. To put that in context, over 1 billion ballots were cast in general and primary elections in that time. So in other words,  voter impersonation occurs 0.0000031% of the time.

West Virginia has had 16 cases of election fraud since 2004, but none of them have been cases of voter impersonation. Instead, all 16 cases were committed by either campaign or election officials. And while these cases involved vote buying, absentee ballot tampering, and ballot box stuffing, none of them would have been prevented by a Voter ID law.

Showing up at the polls to cast one’s ballot as another person is a slow, arduous way to steal an election, which is why it almost never happens. Filling out fraudulent absentee ballots and stuffing the ballot box with them, like what a sheriff and county clerk did in Lincoln County in 2010, is  much easier and more common. But a Voter ID law would do nothing to prevent what happened in Lincoln County.

Instead of preventing non-existent voter impersonation, Voter ID laws have the effect of depressing voter turnout. A number of studies have found Voter ID laws generally reduce turnout by about 2 to 3 percent. These laws also unfairly target minorities. Nationwide, about 11% of adults lack a photo ID. However, for African Americans that figure is 25%, and for seniors and young adults, it’s 18%. Voter ID laws have a disproportionate impact on these groups, which is why the courts have struck down other Voter ID laws for disenfranchising minority and low-income voters. Other court rulings have made it clear that states must act
aggressively to ensure that no voter is disenfranchised. These requirements create significant costs to any state trying to implement a voter ID law.

If West Virginia has a voting problem, it’s that not enough people vote. West Virginia ranked second-to-last in voter turnout for the last two presidential elections, and the 2014 election saw turnout levels fall to a six-decade low.

West Virginia recently moved in the right direction by implementing online voter registration. But instead of continuing to work to encourage more voter participation, lawmakers in West Virginia are moving backwards with more burdens and restrictions. A Voter ID law would be another expensive and harmful solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

***UPDATE***

Many previous studies on the have been ambiguous on the effect on Voter ID laws on turnout. This report from the Government Accountability Office looked at 10 studies, and found no consensus in either direction. 5 of the studies showed no effect, 4 studies showed a decrease in turnout, and 1 study showed an increase in turnout. However, these studies were all hampered by the fact that they looked at elections from before 2008, while many of the strictest Voter ID laws were passed since then.

New research, looking at elections since 2008, when a wave of new Voter ID laws were enacted, does show compelling evidence that Voter ID laws do reduce voter turnout, particularly for minorities. This research, from political scientists at the University of California, San Diego, is one of the most comprehensive reports looking at Voter ID laws and turnout. The authors analyzed election data from 2008 to 2012 from states with and without Voter ID laws, making it one of the first reports to analyze data from a number of states after they enacted Voter ID laws.

The reports finds Voter ID laws significantly reduce turnout among minorities, after controlling for a broad number of factors. Voter ID laws were shown to reduce turnout  by Latinos by 10.3 percentage points and multiracial individuals by 12.8 percentage points in general elections, and reduced turnout for African Americans by 1.6 percentage points in primary elections. Naturalized citizens also saw reduced turnout under Voter ID laws

The report also found that Voter ID laws reduce turnout for both Democrats and Republicans, but Democrats saw a greater decrease in turnout.

The authors conclude that Voter ID laws result in the muting of minorities in the political system, while the influence of white Americans grows, while also creating a clear partisan distortion that favors Republicans and conservatives.

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