A number of news outlets have described the 2014 Texas primary as the first big test for the state’s voter ID law – and that’s true, to an extent. But it’s important to understand the limitations and caveats of the “test.” For starters, although voter turnout almost certainly will exceed the 8.55% of the state’s registered voters who turned out in November 2013 to vote on constitutional amendments, it is not clear that turnout will much exceed – if at all – the combined 16.6% of voters who voted in the 2010 Democratic and Republican primaries. That’s a far cry from the 38% of voters who voted in the 2010 general election (when Texas had the lowest voter turnout in the country) and even further from the 58.6% of voters who cast a ballot in the last presidential election. In other words, while the primary may be a stress test, over relying on it is a bit like using how a well a city does with a quarter inch of ice to predict how the city would do with a major snowstorm. Disaster with a quarter inch of ice – or in a low turnout primary – would be bad sign indeed, but the opposite can’t be said to be necessarily true.
Moreover, although some partisans likely will trumpet any higher turnout rates as a sign of how the law is, or isn’t, impacting voters, there are several good reasons for thinking that the primary isn’t especially predictive.
For one thing, primary voters tend to be the most regular of voters and the most involved in politics and, thus, the most likely to know about the law and its requirements. In Texas, they also skew older and more affluent – and evidence suggests that a poorer voters and a growing number of younger voters are the ones especially unlikely to have IDs. Primary voters, in other words, are different in any number of ways from the November electorate and potentially even more different from the great mass of Texas voters (62%) who didn’t vote in 2010 but who might in November 2014.