ID backers’ new line: Laws boost voter confidence (they don’t)

The New York Times’s Michael Wines looks at the rash of new voter ID bills and other restrictive voting laws that we told you about last month. Wines notes that with claims about voter fraud falling apart under scrutiny, backers of new restrictions are now falling back on a different argument: That the laws are needed to combat the perception of fraud, whether or not such fraud actually exists. 
“The perception exists that voter fraud is a serious issue, and that perception itself has to be addressed,” Nebraska state Sen. John Murante tells Wines, explaining his support for a constitutional amendment that would establish a voter ID requirement.

But this rationale is as flimsy as the last: As Wines might have pointed out, there’s little evidence that restrictive laws even do much to instill faith in the system, either. In fact, it turns out that when you require voters to show a form of ID that hundreds of thousands of them, disproportionately minorities, don’t have, lots of people are going to express less, not more, confidence in the integrity of the process.

The political scientists Shaun Bowler and Todd Donovan looked at the relationship between voter ID laws and voter confidence last year and found, perhaps not surprisingly, that while Republicans in states with strict ID laws were more confident in their states’ elections, Democrats were less. 
“Results suggest strict photo identification laws are failing to instill broad-based confidence in elections,” they wrote, “and that reform could correspond with diminished confidence among some.” 
Also last year, three renowned scholars of election administration, Charles Stewart III, Stephen Ansolabehere, and Nathaniel Persily, examined essentially the same question. They found that the existence of a photo ID law doesn’t affect the public’s belief in the frequency of voter fraud, and that people actually know very little about their states’ requirements. 
They concluded: 

No one would suggest that public perception of a potentially nonexistent threat would justify relaxing constitutional speech, religion, or criminal rights, for example. The same should be true with voting. Because public attitudes on voter fraud are unaffected by the stringency of a voter ID law, such laws cannot be justified on that basis.

In other words, just as voter ID laws do little or nothing to stop fraud, they also appear to do little or nothing to boost confidence in elections. Luckily, if the staying power of the “voter fraud” line is any guide, it should only take another decade or so to get this new talking point out of circulation.

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