Tag Archives: voter id law

Young woman showing her ID in order to vote

Professors Battle Each Other As Experts in Wisconsin Voter ID Battle

One Wisconsin Institute, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Education Fund and six individuals brought a suit arguing that Wisconsin’s voter ID law and other election-related laws have a disproportionate impact on Wisconsin youth and minorities.

While the trial has concluded, there has not yet been a ruling. The decision is expected by the end of July. However, because the decision will come too close to the date of the August 9 partisan primary, presiding Judge James Peterson has said that his decision will not affect that election.

During this two-week federal trial, both sides used multiple expert witnesses to make their arguments.

Plaintiff Experts

Plaintiff expert Lori Minnite, a voter fraud expert and associate professor of public policy and administration at Rutgers University in New Jersey, testified that voter fraud is uncommon in Wisconsin and that these laws tend to be politically motivated. She opined that the Republican Party believes that it benefits from more restrictive voting laws and the Democratic Party believes the opposite, which can be seen in a “really stark partisan divide in every legislature that’s adopted voter ID laws in recent years.”

Plaintiff witness Allan Lichtman, Distinguished Professor of History at American University, opined that, “[t]he plausible explanation for these many restrictive measures is the partisan gains that Republicans can achieve through provisions that disproportionately burden African American and Hispanic voters and potential voters.”

Plaintiff witness Kenneth Mayer, Professor of Political Science at University of Wisconsin-Madison, has opined that Wisconsin’s elections laws impose “substantial burdens” that “have the greatest effect on identifiable population subgroups, particularly racial minorities, young voters, students, and registrants without ID, depressing their turnout by making it significantly harder to register and vote.”

Plaintiff witness Barry Burden is a professor of political science at University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Director at UW Elections Research Center. Burden has concluded that “the changes to Wisconsin election law between 2011 and 2014 that are challenged by plaintiffs in this litigation will predictably have a disproportionate impact on voting participation by blacks, Latinos, young people, lower income individuals, and Democrats in Wisconsin. The challenged laws disproportionately increase the costs of voting for these individuals.”

Defense Experts

Defense witness M.V. Hood III is a professor of political science at University of Georgia. He has concluded that “Wisconsin’s election code provides a reasonable and common sense approach to the manner in which elections are conducted in the state” and has stated that, “I can think of no reason that would lead me to believe that the changes undertaken to Wisconsin’s election code under challenge in this case have, or will have, a detrimental impact on the ability of Wisconsin voters to cast a ballot, including minority voters.”

Defense witness Nolan McCarty, Susan Dod Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Princeton University, concluded that there is little evidence that the changes in electoral law had significant partisan effect. He further concluded that findings suggesting an adverse effect on minorities or youth are attributable to attrition biases, measurement error or misinterpreting the findings.

Election Experts Testify in Virginia Voter ID Case

Election Experts Testify in Virginia Voter ID Case

Laws requiring voters to show photo identification before their votes can be cast or counted are both politically and legally controversial. Last year, the United States Supreme Court declined to consider a challenge to a Wisconsin law that requires voters to produce a photo ID before they are allowed to vote. The Supreme Court’s inaction left in place a sharply divided federal appeals court decision that rejected a challenge to Wisconsin’s law. A few months later, a different federal appeals court ruled that Texas may not enforce portions of its voter ID law.

A lawsuit challenging Virginia’s voter ID law is underway. The plaintiffs, which include the Democratic party, are relying on expert testimony to support their challenge to the law. The defendants are countering with experts of their own.

The Voter ID Controversy

Proponents of voter ID laws argue that they are needed to combat voter fraud. Opponents of voter ID laws argue that voter suppression is the true motivation underlying the demand that voters produce a photo ID. They claim that voter fraud is a red herring and that disenfranchising voters who are poor, young, or disadvantaged — the groups who are least likely to have a valid photo ID — is the hidden purpose that the laws actually serve. That claim was recently endorsed by a conservative federal judge who has been persuaded by the evidence that photo ID laws have nothing to do with voter fraud and everything to do with politics.

As of January 2016, 36 states have adopted laws that require voters to show some kind of identification at the polls. Not all of those states, however, require a photo ID. The laws in 3 of the 36 states have been struck down by courts.

Election Experts Testify in Virginia

The plaintiffs in the Virginia suit contend that the voter ID law is intended to reduce the number of minority voters. Proponents had argued that the law is needed to curb voter fraud by impersonation, but a state senator testified that the law’s proponents could not point to a single case in which a Virginia voter had been arrested or convicted for impersonating another voter.

An expert testifying on behalf of the parties who are challenging Virginia’s voter ID law told the court that fear of voter fraud is not a rational justification for the law. The expert, Lorraine C. Minnite, is a professor of political science at Rutgers who has studied election fraud and vote suppression.

Minnite testified that the kind of fraud photo ID laws are meant to curtail is so rare that the number of legitimate voters who will be disqualified from casting ballots for lack of acceptable identification far exceeds the number of fraudulent voters who will be prevented from voting. Minnite conceded that voter fraud occurs, but contended that one voter impersonating another — the kind of voter fraud that photo ID laws target — almost never happens.

The defendants, state agencies and officials charged with administering elections in Virginia, countered with the testimony of two experts. Karen L. Owen, an assistant professor of public administration at Reinhardt University in Georgia, suggested that legitimate public policy concerns, rather than voter suppression, may have influenced Virginia’s legislators to enact the voter ID law. Even if voter impersonation is not a serious concern, she said, legislators may have been responding to the public perception that voter fraud is a problem, and enacted the law to increase voter confidence in the integrity of election outcomes.

Daniel J. Palazzolo, a professor of political science at the University of Richmond, agreed that the legislature may have enacted the voter ID law in response to public perceptions. He also suggested that legislators may have been influenced by activist groups that lobbied in favor of the law. Palazzolo testified that he could not rule out prejudice against minority voters as a motivating factor, but contended that there was insufficient evidence to prove that legislators passed the law because they wanted to suppress minority votes.

After all the trial testimony was completed, the presiding judge asked the parties to file written arguments. The last of those arguments is due in court in early April. Whether the judge’s decision will be influenced by the expert testimony presented on behalf of either party will not be known until the judge issues a decision.

Voter ID Lawsuit Expert Witness Draws Criticism of DOJ

A transcript of testimony from a Department of Justice expert witness created a stir last week due to statements from the expert that argued voter ID laws disproportionately affect African Americans because minorities tend to be less educated and less sophisticated voters.  The testimony came during the July hearing of a civil rights lawsuit filed by the DOJ and the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) alleging that North Carolina’s voter ID law violates the constitution by discriminating against black voters.

DOJ and NAACP Challenge Voter ID Law

In July, the DOJ and NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against North Carolina’s voter ID laws arguing that black and other minority voters are negatively impacted by regulations that prevent same-day voter registration and require government issued identification in order to vote.  Under the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution, states cannot pass laws that unfairly inhibit minorities from exercising their rights, such as the right to vote.  Even laws that do not specifically target minorities can be unconstitutional if the effect on minorities is disproportionately negative when compared to the effect on white Americans.

The longstanding debate on voter ID laws has divided sharply along party lines with Republican lawmakers arguing voter regulations are necessary to prevent fraud and Democrats countering that such laws are discriminatory in nature because minority voters are most affected by the restrictions.  With minority voters almost exclusively voting Democrat, political interests underlie the stated arguments and ensure that compromise on the issue is highly unlikely, leaving resolution of the issue in the hands of the federal court system.

The North Carolina based federal judge who heard the case during its initial stages determined that the state’s voter ID laws did not violate the constitution, only to have the ruling reversed on appeal to the Fourth Circuit.  Before settling the issue, the Supreme Court, as it did with similar laws in Ohio and Texas, stayed the 4th Circuit’s order to repeal the law, meaning the voter ID restrictions in North Carolina will be in full effect until SCOTUS says otherwise.

Expert Witness Testifies to Black Voter Sophistication

During the July trial in a North Carolina federal court, Charles Stewart, a political science expert witness from MIT hired by the Justice Department, testified that terminating the ability to register and vote on the same day affected black voters disproportionately in part because they are less sophisticated by saying, “Understanding within political science, that people who register to vote the closer and closer one gets to Election Day tend to be less sophisticated voters, tend to be less educated voters, tend to be voters who are less attuned to public affairs. People who correspond to those factors tend to be African Americans, and, therefore, that’s another vehicle through which African Americans would be disproportionately affected by this law.”

Going further, Dr. Stewart went on to speak to the impact that voting laws, including voter ID requirements, have on black populations by saying, “People who have lower education and who have less – that pay less attention to public affairs will have greater problems figuring out how to vote, [and]… My understanding is that African Americans have lower levels of education in North Carolina, and I know from the public opinion work that African Americans report that they paid less attention to public affairs on average than white voters do probably because of the differences the education.” According to Dr. Stewart’s testimony, then, differences in education and less attention to public affairs make minority populations in North Carolina less sophisticated voters which means it is more difficult for them to overcome voter regulations, supporting the DOJ’s argument that voting restrictions unconstitutionally burden minorities and therefore cannot be enforced.

Voter ID Lawsuit Expert Witness Spurs Debate

Although Dr. Stewart’s comments cited social factors as the source of lower sophistication among black voters, opponents of the voter ID lawsuit criticized the political scientist’s testimony as discriminating against the very population the DOJ is trying to protect.  With the constitutionality of voter restriction legislation debated both within and without federal courtrooms, expert witnesses like Dr. Stewart not only offer testimony arguing against, or for, enhanced voting regulation, but provide interesting points of debate to legal and social theorists, both academic and casual, across the country.