Voter ID Laws Could Disenfranchise 1 Million Young Minority Voters: Study

Voter ID Laws Could Disenfranchise 1 Million Young Minority Voters

An estimated 700,000 young minority voters could be barred from voting in November because of photo ID laws passed across the country in recent years, according to a new study.

The number of minority voters under the age of 30 likely to be disenfranchised by these new voting laws -- passed overwhelmingly by Republican-led legislatures across the country -- is a conservative estimate, according to the study's authors. The actual number of voters in that category who could be disenfranchised is probably closer to 1 million, they said.

The projections include African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

“It’s a reminder that our voting rights have always been under attack and probably always will be,” said Cathy Cohen, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who co-authored the report, Turning Back the Clock on Voting Rights: The Impact of New Photo Identification Requirements on Young People of Color.

The study was created by the Black Youth Project, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that aims to increase civic engagement and voter participation among minority youth.

“I don’t think this is new, but I think the scale of it is new… I think the brashness of hearing elected officials talk about how these laws will guarantee a win in their state for [Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney],” Cohen told The Huffington Post. “And I think there is a willingness to be visible and vocal, which I think is new for us in the modern era.”

The study estimates that the new laws, passed in 17 states, could cut turnout among young people of color in those states by between 538,000 and 696,000 voters, levels below turnout figures for those groups in the last two presidential elections.

In 2004, 44 percent of blacks between 18 and 24 turned out to vote, the Associated Press reported. The Latino turnout for that year was 20.4 percent, and Asian Americans voted at a rate of 23.4 percent. In 2008, turnout among these groups exploded, with 52.3 percent of young blacks, 27.4 percent of young Latinos and 27.8 percent of young Asian Americans voting, according to the AP.

An overwhelming number of these voters cast ballots for President Barack Obama and Democrats.

Following the massive minority turnout in 2008, many states have passed stricter voting laws, which have included cutting early voting options and adding photo ID requirements. Minorities, including African Americans, Latinos and Asians, are less likely than their white counterparts to have a government-issued ID. Twenty-five percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinos lack such identification, compared to 9 percent of whites, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

The new study offers insight into just how many voters could be turned away due to new restrictions on ID.

According to the report: Between 170,000 and 475,000 young black voters; 68,000 and 250,000 young Hispanic voters; 13,000 and 46,000 young Asian-American voters; 1,700 and 6,400 young Native American voters and 700 and 2,700 young Pacific Islander voters could be denied the right to vote or turned away at the polls for not having the proper credentials.

But Cohen said there is data that suggests that rates valid ID ownership among people of color younger than 30 could be even lower than estimated. If younger minority voters have valid IDs at a rate of only 50 percent, she said, the impact of restrictive ID laws is more acute.

“We wanted to write a report that would really focus on young people of color, in part to draw a contrast between 2004 and 2008, where we saw a really dramatic increase of young people of color going to the polls, expanding the democracy,” Cohen said. “Now we face a situation where in fact maybe 700,000 or more young people could be immobilized.”

The study’s authors estimate that the drop in turnout among these groups could not only have an impact on those able to cast a ballot in the presidential election, but could also affect a number of hotly-contested House races.

The depleted turnout could likely play a major role in battleground states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, both of which have enacted new voting laws.

In Florida, more than 100,000 young people of color could be demobilized, according to the report. In Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court recently upheld the state’s photo ID law, an estimated 37,000 to 44,000 minority voters could be affected, the report found.

What’s at play, said Jon Rogowski, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis and a co-author of the report, is a confluence of factors which includes not just the passing of new laws, which he believes Republicans have passed to target likely Democratic voters, but also a waning of energy from the historic 2008 election of President Obama.

“I think that the first thing that stands out in the aftermath of 2008 is that the population for which we heard the most about being energized for the first time in large numbers, that came out for President Obama, are exactly the kind of voters to be most immobilized by the new voter ID requirements,” Rogowski said. “Not only are we likely to see lower numbers of people of color turning out to vote, but the political potency of those groups will also be reduced.”

According to Cohen and Rogowski, more than two-thirds of U.S. states have sought to make voting harder by layering restrictions on the process in which voters cast a ballot. Nine states require voters to show government-issued ID to vote, while eight others have enacted similar requirements while offering limited alternatives.

Only two of these laws were enacted before the 2008 election.

“While we are disheartened to see the apparently systematic way in which the minority youth vote is being undermined, we are committed to meeting this assault with redoubled efforts to ensure that everyone who is eligible to vote can and does vote," Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said in a statement. "Nothing less than the future of our political process is at stake.”

The Department of Justice has struck down voter ID laws in Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Wisconsin this year under the Voting Rights Act, which mandates that states with a history of racially discriminatory voting procedures get their laws cleared by the DOJ.

Some have maintained that the new laws are meant to protect the democratic process, not erode it, by making voter fraud more difficult. But Democratic leaders, civil rights groups and voting rights organizations and activists have said that the new laws are clearly an assault on minority voters, the elderly and the poor, many of whom face social and economic hurdles that make acquiring the required documents more difficult. Others, including Attorney Gen. Eric Holder, have likened the laws to Jim Crow-era poll taxes and other nefarious policies designed to keep African Americans from voting.

“Along the way, we have heard certain state lawmakers allude to the likely electoral impact of these kinds of laws,” Rogowski said. “It’s difficult to try to imagine what other, or in what other kinds of ways, they expect these laws to have electoral impacts.”

“I think it’s a concerted effort to disenfranchise Democratic voters, and those voters that most often won't have these types of ID,” Cohen said. “I don’t want to get into the hearts and minds of the Republican legislatures that they meant to disenfranchise black people, but they probably meant to disenfranchise Democratic voters and the more vulnerable Democratic voters.”

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