True the Vote, an organization dedicated to eradicating voter fraud through controversial methods, issued a report on February 27 concluding that voter ID laws and other election changes allegedly meant to reduce voter fraud not only did not have an adverse impact on turnout in the 2012 elections, but may have helped to increased turnout. Its findings have been trumpeted by many news outlets who do not believe such laws suppress voter turnout. But it turns out the report’s authors made a huge methodological mistake. They compared turnout of eligible voters in 2008 to turnout of registered voters in 2012. Correcting this error reverses their findings. All but one of the states with these new laws experienced a decline in voter turnout, and most experienced a decline greater than the national turnout decline from 2008 to 2012.
Take Florida, for example. True the Vote addressed the claim made by Ohio State University professorTheodore Allen that long lines on Election Day deterred as many as 201,000 Florida voters from reaching the polls. It claimed that Florida’s voter turnout actually increased by 4.9 percentage points (to 71.5%). In reality, Florida’s turnout decreased by 2.6%, dropping from 66.6% in 2008 to 64.0% in 2012.
True the Vote used numbers that skewed their results in their favor when analyzing turnout in every single state they tested. Here’s how the report’s authors explained their methodology: “Data demonstrating 2008 voter participation rates was furnished by George Mason University, calculating turnout based on Total Voting Age Popular (TVAP), [subtracting] those deemed ineligible to vote according to respective state laws. This report calculated 2012 TVAP utilizing current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.”
Basing 2008 turnout calculations on the work of George Mason University’s Michael McDonald is a good decision. A highly respected scholar, McDonald calculates turnout of eligible voters by dividing the number of ballots cast in a state by the number of people who are eligible to vote in a given election (the voting eligible population). Using this method, McDonald found Florida’s voter turnout to be 66.6% in 2008 and 64.0% in 2012.