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hanging chads to fuzzy math to a popular vote winner who lost the
general election, the 2000 presidential race was the first to broadcast
election controversy in real-time.
It was the first time in U.S. history that the entire electorate
witnessed the prospect that their vote might not get counted in an
election. This sparked public skepticism and mistrust in elections, but
also led to a renewed politicization of who should be allowed to vote.
While racial-ethnic minorities endured efforts to suppress their vote
for years, the fallout from the 2000 election created a host of new
suppressive reforms at the state level. The most prominent of which is
voter ID laws.
According to new research published in Springer Nature
by UDs David Wilson, senior associate dean of the College of Arts and
Sciences and professor of political science and international relations,
most individuals support voter ID laws because they are essentially
costless and non-controversial. Since most people have forms of
identification that have a photo and a signature they do not have to
deal with the more controversial aspects of these laws. As a result,
many do not have good reason to oppose voter ID.
Prior research by Wilson found that large majorities support voter ID
laws, including liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, old
and young, and whites and racial minorities alike. This despite the
prospect that such laws potentially disenfranchise specific segments of
the population: Newer voters, younger voters, racial-ethnic minorities,
those living in urban areas where a drivers license is unnecessary, and
persons with lower incomes because they require more than simple
registration and showing up at the polls. Some states require social
security cards, birth certificates or other certified documents to
obtain a state voting ID.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Prof. David C. Wilson
Wilsons study highlights the importance of Voter ID as a low
information issue; people dont know much about it, and dont feel a
need to invest much study into it.
Its not controversial on the surface, Wilson said. Since for many
people the need for ID is commonplace, few oppose it as a requirement.
The reasoning is that it is basically costless and commonsensical.
Moreover, strict voter ID laws operate as poll taxes on those who
do not have the requisite ID; however, Wilsons research shows that when
the tax is applied to everyone, even the most ardent supporters of
voter ID will actually oppose it, he said.
Wilson recently answered a few questions about the study, which is
particularly relevant as we head into the home stretch of an election
that is already seeing record turnout in states with early voting.
Q: What was the genesis of this study?
Wilson: This study of voter ID laws corresponds to my research
on justice and how people think about the distribution of rights in
society. It comes out of my broader research that seeks to understand
the roles of deservingness, equity, and inclusion in politics.
Q: Is support for voter ID laws related to how informed the public is?
Wilson: Yes, most people do not know the specifics of their
states voting ID requirement. Each state has its own requirements for
both registration and eligibility to vote in an election. In some places
you need a photo ID with a signature that's issued by the state or
federal government. In other places, you may just need a photo ID with
your address; sometimes you dont need a photo, but the ID must have a
signature. In some places, you simply have to state your name. The
public doesn't really track the nuances. They just hope they've got it
right on election day.
Q: How does cost play into this?
Wilson: We ran experiments that looked at cost in terms of
finances, but also time and effort. We found that support for voter ID
laws decreased dramatically when people are forced to deal with the
costs of obtaining an ID. In one study, we asked people how much they
support voter ID laws, and then we followed up with a second question
that included a prompt that their state was proposing a new law that
would require all eligible voters to get a state issued ID. Support
declined dramatically in the second question. When we added on various
taxes such as how long it would take to get the ID, what documents
were required, or an imposed cost, support decreased even more. Most
significantly, support decreased for Republicans, who are the most
staunch supporters of voter ID. This signaled to us that cost is the
inherent controversy in voter ID laws, and that since most people have
the ID, they do not experience the tax of having to obtain it.
Q: It speaks to politics as much as to the idea of empathy, right?
It seems like its similar to what were seeing with the response to
Wilson: Part of the psychology of politics is understanding
how the public consumes information, whether it be from elected
officials, the media, or friends and family. Issues tend to become
relevant only when you have to experience them directly. For example,
those with the best medical care in the world and have a job, can get
sick with COVID, but they can always go see their doctor and get the
care they need. But people without healthcare or jobs, maybe
experiencing a great deal of anxiety over getting sick and not being
able to work or pay for care, especially if they have children. And so
the sense of controversy may not be equal, as those with insurance see
it as straightforward, and those without see things as unfair and
unjust. COVID-19 will likely lead to more support for the Affordable
Care Act among past opponents, because now getting insurance given pre
existing conditions is more relevant.
Q: Why cant people take the leap and realize that even though
restrictive voter ID laws dont impact them directly, they do impact the
election, so therefore they do indeed directly impact them?
Wilson: Remember, voter ID is a low information issue, and
most people are not motivated to think that much into it. Also, many
people (at least 35%) of registered voters do not vote, and so voting is
a big concern for them. Essentially, it requires a bit of a leap that
one should care about increasing voting turnout; political scientists
who study democracy have found that there is not unanimous agreement
about who should be allowed to vote. Some believe that people who aren't
informed shouldn't participate, and others think that if you commit a
serious crime or you don't pay your taxes, you shouldn't be able to
vote. The bottom line is that many people want voting to be an exclusive
privilege more so than a right.
Q: You mentioned in this study how the contested 2000 election
brought about a hyper partisanship that changed the whole dynamics
Wilson: After the 2000 election, people started to not feel
confident in the election system. It was amazing to watch the public see
pretty much for the first time that they may vote, but their vote may
not count due to mechanical accidents or human error. If you have a
hanging chad, or you did not hole punch your paper ballot all the way
through or you checked the box, instead of filling it in with the
pencil, your vote could actually be eliminated. Also, in that election
Al Gore got more popular votes than George W. Bush did, but still lost
the electoral college election, the one that matters. So the confidence
in the electoral system was eroding. Bush passed a motor voter law early
on that would allow more people to register and make it easier to vote.
What Republicans soon realized was that, well, if we allow more people
to vote, its very likely they may not win because the population
racial-ethnic demographics are shifting, and their conservative
messaging was not breaking through to the changing electorate. One
solution was to incorporate more strict requirements on voting, under
the guise that there's more fraud, there's more corruption, and there
needs to be safeguards on the system to prevent all of the new voters
from corrupting it. Similar strategies were used when European
immigrants first came to the U.S. They came about over fears that
outsiders were going to tear apart the American way of life. Similar
burdens were placed on racial-ethnic minorities when the federal
government forced the integration of schools, workplaces and the
military; and even when women were allowed to vote. So 2000 was kind of
the kickoff point for fears over the changing America, and then when
9/11 happened, the public became more open to restrictions on its civil
Q: How does partisanship factor into views of voter ID laws?
Wilson: Democrats tend to be more open to the government
playing an active role in equalizing society; therefore they tend to
support various forms of diversity in government and place a greater
emphasis on collective interests. Alternatively, Republicans tend to
desire limits on government, where the key roles are protecting the free
market, providing a common defense, and arbitrating disputes. With such
a limited role people can ostensibly go after all of the prosperity
they want without a lot of rules or allowances for those that cannot
compete. Essentially, it's up to each individual not the government
to resolve their own problems. There's kind of this survival of the
fittest model that allows people to say, hey, if I work really hard, and
I survive, then I deserve what I've got. And if voter ID laws require
you to get an ID, you should get it. Republicans generally follow their
leaders. The narrative is that Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall
in love. And the falling in line part about Republicans is if the
message from their elected leaders is that voter ID laws are protecting
the sanctity of the ballot, then people will just say, yeah, I've got an
ID, everybody should have an ID, it's personal responsibility. They
have little incentive to think that maybe there is no fraud, and that
this is an ID that this is a requirement that is unnecessary; that is
not falling in line. Regardless, in our republic, parties serve the
public and its up to individuals to decide which should govern. This
brings us back to voter ID laws; if parties can actually help decide who
governs by limiting the population of voters, they can have a more
simplified and direct message for their base, and thus a reliable level
Article by Peter Bothum; photo by iStock
Published Oct. 23, 2020