Georgia has a unique situation in terms of its voter ID law, which was put into effect in 2007. As is often cited by photo voter ID law proponents, voter turnout did in fact increase between the 2004 presidential elections, which did not feature a photo voter ID mandate, and the 2008 presidential elections, which did. The numbers on this can not be refuted, and Heritage Foundation’s Hans Von Spakovsky often excitedly refers to the Georgia case when making his pro-voter ID argument.
Citing recent voter turnout data released by Georgia Secretary of State Brian P. Kemp in a presentation he made before the Conservative Leadership Conference of the Civitas Institute on March 2 to rally North Carolina up for passing a voter ID bill:
Von Spakovsky noted that “Georgia had the largest turnout of minority voters in its history,” and then drew the conclusion, “As shown by these data … voter ID requirements can be easily met by almost all voters and do not have a discriminatory or disparate impact on racial minorities.” The message sent: Georgia 2008 voter turnout was good; therefore voter ID laws are good.
These are specious conclusions to draw at best because it relies on a non-existent causation or correlation between the implementation of the state’s voter ID law and voter turnout without controlling for other factors such as the growth in voting age population and the growth in the number of people registered to vote during the same period.
I spoke with Charles S. Bullock III, the Richard B. Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia who said that the state’s voter ID law “is not a cause” for the increase in minority voter turnout and “that you can’t build a case for a causal link” between the implementation of the voter ID law and the increase in minority voter turnout. In fact, voter turnout would have increased in Georgia in the 2008 presidential election with or without the voter ID law for a number of other factors, says Lubbock, including a “gradual increase” in the voting-age population of African Americans, and also the excitement around the possible election of the nation’s first black president. But this does not mean that everyone was able to “easily” get an ID card.
“Obama’s candidacy was certainly a major factor in promoting” voter participation in 2008 says Lubbock. But also the unprecedented numbers of black voters registered for the 2008 elections in Georgia was a significant factor. Says Lubbock: “There was a huge increase in black registration in Georgia [for the 2008 elections] also. The Obama campaign began to register African Americans early on in December of 2007 in anticipation of the Georgia primary, which came early that year [Super Tuesday, February 5] and their aggressive voter registration efforts continued all the way up to when the books closed in October 2008.”
This is consistent with the conclusion reached in the academic study “Achieving Validation: Barack Obama and Black Turnout in 2008,” by M. V. Hood III of the University of Georgia and Seth C. McKee of the University of South Florida. In that study, published in a recent edition of State Politics & Policy Quarterly, they state that almost a quarter of the record high black turnout in the state “is due to the mobilization of new voters in the year prior to the election. In addition, the mobilization efforts of the Obama campaign are also evident among registrants who had not participated in the 2004 presidential contest.”
The Increase in Georgia’s minority voter turnout was due to large increases in voter registration and the excitement around the Obama campaign, despite the voter ID law, but not because of it. And while Von Spakovsky argues that the turnout increase for African Americans “far outpaced the growth rate” of their total population, he uses the 10-year Census period (2000-2010) growth rate to measure against voter turnout growth between 2004 and 2008. It’s a flawed statement to say that growth in voter turnout “far outpaces” total population growth when using two different baselines. But if you’re going to use the 10-year baseline, total population growth isn’t what you measure by — you measure by the total voting-age population, which for African Americans was almost 31%.
Does that mean that voter ID law requirements were “easily met by almost all voters” and that they don’t have a “discriminatory or disparate impact on racial minorities,” as Von Spakovsky asserts? Of course not. The statistics he cites on voter turnout only says something about those who made it successfully to the polls to vote, and says nothing about those who stayed at home either because they thought they wouldn’t be eligible to vote or because they didn’t have the means and resources to obtain the necessary materials to be eligible.
In Van Spakovsky’s argument, because there were relatively few people who applied for free voting identification cards each year since the law went into effect, then that must mean there are relatively few people who needed the ID to begin with. He provides this table, which like the one above, was created by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp:
Says Von Spakovsky: “This completely contradicts the unsupported claims of voter ID opponents that there are hundreds of thousands of voters in every state who do not have a photo ID.”
No, it doesn’t. The numbers above only says something about those who were privileged to be issued a voting card, but nothing about those who either didn’t bother to pursue a card, or who did but wasn’t issued one. Lubbock agrees that looking at the number of people who were issued voting IDs in a given year is an inaccurate gauge for measuring the number of people who need them. He further reminded me that in Georgia you don’t need an ID to vote absentee — which itself is a subject for exploration if talking voter fraud, but one that voter ID laws don’t necessarilly address. Note also that the table above only shows the number of IDs issued, but not as a percentage of IDs applied for. Von Spakovsky’s, and Kemp’s, chart explains nothing about those who didn’t have the appropriate ID to vote in 2008 and couldn’t get one.
The issue is access, and as we noted in the Texas case, there are thousands of Latino voters who may not be able to access the necessary ID for voting without burdens because they live dozens, if not hundreds of miles away from a driver’s license office. Some will have trouble with access because the driver’s license offices close to them don’t stay open past hours that a typical person would be working. And then there are all the other burdens related to costs and finding the necessary documents (birth, marriage certificates, etc.) in place that must be factored in. This is what is meant by voter suppression.
Texas and Georgia are two different states, but the barriers explained above relating to transportation, working hours and costs can be applied anywhere that you have populations of low-income, lack of transportation or people with complicated documentation issues due to name changes, address changes or citizenship status.
This is not to say that minorities in Georgia definitely are discriminated against beyond a shadow of a doubt in their quest to vote due to the state’s voter ID laws. This is to say that the conclusions Von Spakosvky arrives at regarding voter ID laws being fair for all and devoid of any suppression effect are ill-informed.