Evolution of an Issue: Voter ID Laws in the American States
29 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
In this paper we undertake a comprehensive examination of voter ID legislation in the American states, from 2001 through 2012. We show that there has been a notable evolution in the behavior of partisan lawmakers regarding their handling of this issue. Whereas in the early 2000s voter ID laws were few and primarily motivated by efforts to comply with the 2002 Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was passed in response to the vote counting fiasco in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, more recently there is evidence of extreme partisan polarization regarding voter ID laws across state legislatures. With a dataset that includes over 1,000 proposed and nearly 100 enacted voter ID laws spanning a dozen years, we employ (1) negative binomial and multilevel over-dispersed Poisson count models and (2) pooled time series cross-sectional regression models with binary dependent variables, to determine the likelihood a state legislature in a given year introduces and adopts restrictive voter ID bills. It is clear from our evaluation of legislative activity on voter ID laws that they have evolved from a valence issue into a partisan battle where, with few exceptions, Republicans defend their enactment as a safeguard against fraud while Democrats indict them as the leading tactic for voter suppression. Though the partisan fight over voter ID laws is now common knowledge among political observers, the legislation is not uniform across the states; that is, not all Republican-controlled legislatures have pushed for more restrictive voter ID laws. We argue that a state’s broader electoral and demographic context - including a state’s turnout rate and whether or not it is a presidential battleground state - conditions why some Republican - controlled state legislatures have focused on voter ID laws as a useful political tool to shape the electorate. In an age of highly competitive partisan politics, when neither party can lay claim to a dominant electoral position, voter ID laws constitute an issue that both parties utilize to further their political interests. In short, the voter ID issue is a pawn in the larger partisan game of electoral politics.
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