Study Debunks Oft-Cited Research Alleging Voter ID Laws Are Racist
Scholars at Stanford, Yale, Penn find 'evidence presented does not constitute reliable information'
New research suggests a widely cited study that claimed proof of the racist effects of voter ID laws was false.
“The results on voter ID laws are in — and it’s bad news for ethnic and racial minorities,” ran a September 2016 op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, authored by University of California San Diego Professor Zoltan L. Hajnal.
“My colleagues Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson and I analyzed validated voting data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study in order to follow voter turnout from 2006 through 2014 among members of different groups … in states with and without strict ID laws,” Hajnal wrote. “The patterns are stark. Where strict identification laws are instituted, racial and ethnic minority turnout significantly declines,” he wrote.
“Strict voter ID laws may reduce turnout, particularly among minorities, but the evidence presented [by the original authors] does not constitute reliable information documenting such a relationship.”
In February of this year, following President Donald Trump’s win and the installation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Hajnal recycled his op-ed in The Washington Post — this time with the other two co-authors of the study on the byline.
“Hispanics are affected the most: Turnout is 7.1 percentage points lower in general elections and 5.3 points lower in primaries in strict ID states than it is in other states. Strict ID laws mean lower African-American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout as well. White turnout is largely unaffected,” Hajnal, Lajevardi, and Nielson wrote (note: in Zoltan’s original LA Times op-ed, he claimed that voter ID laws actually increase white turnout).
The bottom line, according to the authors, is that voter ID “laws have a disproportionate effect on minorities, which is exactly what you would expect given that members of racial and ethnic minorities are less apt to have valid photo ID.”
Unsurprisingly, the professors’ op-ed and their study was enthusiastically repeated across much of the mainstream media. “New study confirms that voter ID laws are very racist,” ran a Think Progress headline. “Study: Those Allegedly Racist Voter ID Laws Are Actually Pretty Racist,” proclaimed GQ.
It paints a dark picture indeed — a shocking reminder of America’s unspoken racial divides. Or it would if it were true. New research by scholars at Stanford, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania suggests the claims are not true at all.
“To study how voter identification laws affect participation in elections, Hajnal, Lajevardi and Nielson (2017) examines validated turnout data in five national surveys conducted between 2006 and 2014,” noted the authors of the new study, published on Friday.
“The study concludes that strict ID laws cause a large turnout decline among minorities, especially Latinos. Here, we show that the results of this paper are a product of large data inaccuracies, that the evidence does not support the stated conclusion, and that model specifications produce highly variable results,” the authors wrote.
“When errors in the analysis are corrected, one can recover positive, negative, or null estimates of the effect of voter ID laws on turnout. Our findings underscore that no definitive relationship between strict voter ID laws and turnout can be established from the validated CCES data,” they said.
“Strict voter ID laws may reduce turnout, particularly among minorities, but the evidence presented [by the original authors] does not constitute reliable information documenting such a relationship,” the authors of the new study concluded.
The results of the new study aren’t surprising to advocates of voter ID laws and election integrity protections.
“If ever you wanted a good example for the term ‘alternate facts,’ look no further,” said Public Interest Legal Foundation spokesman Logan Churchwell.
"For years, activists and academics have been searching for the silver bullet to prove voter ID is harmful to minorities, despite broad support for the laws across every demographic. Many federal courts have been asked to do the same: find a causal link between voter ID and intentional decreases in minority turnout. All eventually failed," he said.
"Despite this, too many in the media are willing to report an initial study as gospel before peer reviewers can weigh in," Logan continued.