A New Study Shows Just How Destructive and Racist Voter ID Laws Really Are


Staggering numbers of poor and black voters reported that Wisconsin’s voter ID law kept them from voting in the 2016 presidential election in a state that Donald Trump won by just one percentage point, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin.

Of the 160,000 registered voters in the state’s two largest counties—Milwaukee and Dane—who stayed home from the polls last year, the study found that an estimated 11.2% total were “deterred” from voting by the state’s restrictive voter ID law, and that 6% were “prevented from voting because they lacked ID or cited ID
as the main reason they did not vote.”

All told, Mayer found that between 16,801 and 23,252 people were deterred from voting because of the state’s law, according to findings published online Monday night.

In reality, those numbers are probably actually much higher, since an untold number of Wisconsinites likely didn’t register to vote because they knew they didn’t have the proper ID, according to UW-Madison researcher Kenneth Mayer.

As you might expect, Mayer found that the law has had a significantly disproportionate effect on low-income and black voters, just as voting rights advocates fighting ID laws have argued all along. 21.1% of voters who earn less than $25,000 a year were deterred from voting, compared to just 2.7% of registered voters who stayed home and earn $100,000 a year or more. 27% of all black residents surveyed said they were deterred from voting in 2016, compared with 8.3% of white registered voters.

What’s worse, there’s reason to believe these people would have turned out to vote if not for the Republican-backed law, signed by Gov. Scott Walker in 2011, as 80% of those specifically deterred from voting by the law cast ballots in the 2012 race.

Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by a mere 22,748 votes out of more than 2.9 million cast. But the researchers did not ask the nonvoters surveyed about their party identification, so the study doesn’t conclude that the effort to suppress turnout among Democratic voters definitively swung the state to Trump. But in an interview with The New York Times, Mayer also didn’t fully rule out the possibility.

“It’s certainly possible that there were enough voters deterred that it flipped the election,” he said.

Clinton has argued that voter suppression played a role in her losing the state— which she never visited during the general election campaign—along with the presidency, but she has mostly used somewhat dubious data from a Clinton-aligned super PAC.

Whatever the partisan question, here’s what we know for sure: voter ID laws are insidious, they’re affecting our elections, and they absolutely must be stopped.

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