Over the last several months there have been many reports of the potential negative impact of voter ID laws being passed throughout the country. Many analyst and opponents of the law have stated that these laws will disproportionately affect minority voters who typically vote for Democratic candidates. A study
by Jon C. Rogowski, PhD, an assistant professor of political science in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, and Cathy Cohen, a University of Chicago political science professor, for the Black Youth Project concluded that as many as 696,000 minority voters under the age of 30 could be prevented from voting due to the new laws.
Given that many have debated the fairness or necessity of these laws since they began to be passed in 2011 I am not going to dwell on that aspect of the conversation. Instead, I think it is important to consider the other possible outcome of the new laws; that is that these new laws could in fact be a call to action for minority groups that have in the past had low voter turn out to become active, thus increasing the minority turnout.
Even with the increase in minority voter turnout – and a decrease in white voter turnout – in the 2008 elections the overall numbers were still low with white turnout still beating all others (even with a substantial jump in the black vote). A report from the Pew Research Center
stated the following regarding the 2004 and 2008 elections:
The levels of participation by black, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters all increased from 2004 to 2008, reducing the voter participation gap between themselves and white eligible voters. This was particularly true for black eligible voters. Their voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3% in 2004 to 65.2% in 2008, nearly matching the voter turnout rate of white eligible voters (66.1%). For Hispanics, participation levels also increased, with the voter turnout rate rising 2.7 percentage points, from 47.2% in 2004 to 49.9% in 2008. Among Asians, voter participation rates increased from 44.6% in 2004 to 47.0% in 2008. Meanwhile, among white eligible voters, the voter turnout rate fell slightly, from 67.2% in 2004 to 66.1% in 2008.
Although this report shows a clear increase amongst minority voters the overall turnout is still low, especially when compared to the turnout amongst white voters. This is especially notable amongst Hispanic voters who had a low 49.0% voter turnout; this is even more important because many analyst have pointed to the Hispanic vote as both the potential deciding fact in the 2012 election and the group most hit by the new laws.
There are many theories regarding why voter turnout remains low and there have been many wonderful articles and papers written on the topic, however, this is not going to be one of them. Instead I bring this up only to show that there is undoubtedly a large block of minority voters who have not voted in the past and who, if given a good enough reason, could be made to vote in the 2012 election – and the new voter ID laws could very well be that reason.
Throughout history we have seen that the fastest way to make any group politically active is to attempt to take away their rights. Individuals who are otherwise happily apathetic regarding politics will quickly rise up and make their voices heard if they believe their freedoms – large or small – are being imposed upon; and Democrats are taking no chances at ensuring that everyone knows what’s going on. In states that are affected by the new laws as well as those that are not Democrats are spreading the message that Republicans are trying to “steal the vote”. In TV ads, emails, interviews, and speech’s voters are reminded of the new voter ID laws and how they are aimed at keeping minority voters away from the polls; and of course their need to go to the polls to fight back.
This tactic not only attacks Republicans as willing to use dirty tactics to win but it is also a battle cry to all minorities who could have their freedom to vote and voices suppressed by the new laws to get active in the election now and get out to vote in November.
If Democrats can successfully convince minority voters that their freedoms are being infringed upon it could very well motivate individuals who in the past have chosen to stay home to become first time voters. Likewise, it could motivate a number of minority voters who currently don’t have IDs but are eligible to receive IDs to go out and get them to ensure that they can vote this year.. The combination of these two things could easily mean that rather than a decrease in minority voters we may well see an increase; and if historical trends hold a substantial increase in the Democratic base for 2012.