Many of you have asked about the effect of voter ID rules. We’re joined once again by Ed Freeland, Director of the Princeton Survey Research Center. He is kind enough to offer some thoughts on a recent survey. Welcome back, Ed. -Sam Wang
In many states, recently enacted rules (ProPublica) will require voters to provide some form of identification when they show up to vote on Election Day. Based on estimates in a recent report from the Brennan Center at NYU, the rules could affect both poll accuracy and real outcomes in key states like Pennsylvania and Florida. It’s a hot-button issue: The push for these laws has come largely from Republican legislatures, who are likely to benefit from reduced turnout. Democrats point to evidence that in-person fraud is nearly nonexistent.
Now we have data on its perceived effect, thanks to a new survey.In swing state poll results released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News, respondents were asked: “Will changes in your state’s voting and registration rules make it harder or easier for you to vote this year or won’t the changes make a difference?”
The results reflect the partisan nature of the question. In Ohio, 12% of likely-voter respondents said it would be harder to vote. But 22% of Democratic likely voters said yes, compared with 1% of Republican likely voters – an enormous difference. A similar story emerged in Florida (23% of Democratic likely voters said yes, and 3% of Republican likely voters – an 8-fold difference) and in Wisconsin (19% of Democratic vs. 2% of Republican likely voters – a 9-fold difference).
These figures exaggerate the probable partisan breakdown of voters at risk. Voters without IDs are a mixed bag: low-income people, whites without college education, retirees. The net outcome, reduced turnout, will tend to favor Republicans. But not by a ratio of 8:1 to 22:1. The final effect has been estimated to be typically less than 1% of swing.
Also, voters who are not able to provide sufficient ID at the polls on Election Day still have an option: they can cast provisional ballots. How those ballots ultimately get validated and tallied depends on each state’s rules. It is unlikely that they will make a difference for the Presidential outcome – but Senate and House races, as well as other state questions, could be affected. One example is Indiana, where the Senate race is close. If after the initial tally on Election Day, the number of provisional ballots is smaller than the margin of victory for any candidate or initiative, then no one need worry about how those provisional ballots are marked. Ultimately, the validated provisional ballots will be added to the final official tally in the weeks after Election Day.
For the Democrats, a much worse scenario is the potential for the new ID rules to discourage voters from going to the polls at all. If nearly 1 in 5 Obama supporters perceives the new rules as a barrier to voting, how many will just stay home on Election Day? Maybe that’s a good question for the next swing state poll.
Our thanks to Mike Kagay and the staff of the Quinnipiac University/New York Times/CBS News poll for including this important question in their most recent voter surveys. No doubt we’ll see more on this issue in the coming weeks.
Author: Ed Freeland
Survey Research Center