Voter ID Laws Reduce Participation, Brown U. Study Finds

This story was written by Dana Teppert, Brown Daily Herald
A new report recently released by a Brown professor and graduate student provides evidence that requiring voters to show identification decreases naturalization rates and suppresses political participation, particularly among minorities and lower income individuals.

The report, released Jan. 2 by Professor of Sociology John Logan and Jennifer Darrah GS, adds to the debate on the effects of state requirements for voter identification. Building on previous studies, Logan and Darrah conclude that voter ID requirements affect not only voter turnout and registration, but also immigrants' decisions to become citizens.

In 2000, in states that required voters to show proof of identity before casting a ballot, the odds of naturalization for foreign-born residents were 5 percent lower than in states that did not have a voter ID requirement, affecting Hispanics most strongly. Logan and Darrah found that voter ID requirements disproportionately affect minorities, people without a high school diploma and those with an annual income of less than $15,000.

Darrah said the report, which has received national attention, was a response to the current debate about voter identification requirements. It notes that as of 2004, 19 states required voters to provide some kind of identification.

"We knew this had become a hot political issue and that these kinds of policies were about to be under review by the Supreme Court," Darrah said, referring to Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a case currently before the Supreme Court that challenges the constitutionality of a 2005 Indiana law requiring voters to show a photo ID issued by the federal or state government before voting.

In an e-mail to The Herald, Logan wrote that he sent a copy of the report to one of the plaintiff's attorneys, though he added he doesn't know if the report will affect the case.

Proponents of Indiana's voter ID law cite it as a necessary tool to prevent voter fraud, but the report states that, "at a time when many public officials express regret that immigrants seem to lag in their participation in mainstream society, even small suppressive effects on naturalization - the formal step to becoming an American citizen - work in the wrong direction and should be taken into account as people evaluate the benefits and costs of more stringent identification requirements."

Darrah said she and Logan wrote the report in the hopes that it might advance the voter ID debate. "It might gain the attention of policy makers, of the public at large, potentially even the attention of those who are making arguments in official bodies," she said.

Darrah said the study was originally meant to focus on the effects of voter ID requirements on political participation and to address conflicting reports on the effects of voter ID requirements. "We started to think more about what might be affecting political participation of immigrants and all Americans, regardless of their nativity status," Darrah said.

But as Logan and Darrah looked more closely at the existing research and their own study, they began to consider what effects voter ID policies might have on naturalization.

"Looking at whether these policies affect becoming a citizen was totally new, but we did build on previous research that looks at becoming a citizen as an action that reflects a desire to join the American polity for a number of reasons," Darrah said. "If a political system is perceived to be difficult to access people might think their vote might not matter or that their political participation might not be welcome."
© 2008 Brown Daily Herald via U-WIRE