The voting laws requiring photo IDs inherently racially discriminatory, as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg maintained in her blistering dissent Saturday morning? A team of politician scientists from Appalachian State, Texas Tech and the University of Florida took on that question for an article just published in Political Research Quarterly (h/t: Justin Levitt). Their conclusion is that the claims of proponents that they’re just upholding the principle of ballot integrity can be discounted; the photo ID laws aim to disenfranchise Democratic voters; they cite findings that the raised cost of voting imposed by photo ID requires “falls overwhelmingly on minorities.” In other words, the answer is yes. The researchers are William D. Hicks of Appalachian, Seth C. McKee of Texas Tech, and Mitchell D. Sellers and Daniel A. Smith of Florida. They observe that voter ID laws in general and photo ID laws specifically surged in 2006 and later, when the electorate became highly polarized. In 2000, four states–Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan and North Dakota–had enacted ID laws, none of them photo-based; they aimed to clarify voting rules, part of a trend that led to the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by a bipartisan vote in Congress in 2002. At the time, the idea of straightening out confusing differences in voting rules was noncontroversial: “why would any member of Congress oppose helping Americans vote?” the authors ask. The atmosphere soon changed. In 2001, only 14 states required identification to vote, of which only four specified photo IDs; by 2014, 34 states had ID laws, including 17 photo ID laws. In 2011 alone, six states added a photo ID requirement.
What happened? The GOP, they say, recognized that its homogeneous white, male, older and Southern electoral base was competing against “a racially and ethnically diverse, younger, secular, liberal, and Northern-based Democratic Party.” Moreover, the demographic changes bringing more Latinos, African Americans, and Asians into the voting population were working strongly against the GOP and strengthening the Democratic coalition.
The GOP could have evolved to meet these voters on their turf, but chose not to. “Rather than altering issue positions as a means to attract new supporters, the GOP has turned to restrictive voter ID laws to disproportionately deter the participation of current Democratic Party supporters,” the researchers write.
In other words, appealing to a racial coalition was beyond the GOP’s capacity, so the party chose instead to disenfranchise the members of that coalition.