With an important article entitled “Why Voter ID Laws Don’t Swing Many Elections,” superstar statistician Nate Cohn writes that the Brennan Center and their cadre of experts are offering faulty statistics and misleading conclusions on the impact of voter ID laws. The article asserts this is due to inaccurate matching processes and not accounting for other forms of ID. Must read:
But the so-called margin of disenfranchisement — the number of registered voters who do not appear to have photo identification — grossly overstates the potential electoral consequences of these laws. These figures overstate the number of voters who truly lack identification. Those without ID are particularly unlikely to vote. And many who do vote will vote Republican. In the end, the seemingly vast registration gaps dwindle, leaving enough voters to decide only elections determined by fractions of a point.
To begin with, the true number of registered voters without photo identification is usually much lower than the statistics on registered voters without identification suggest. The number of voters without photo identification is calculated by matching voter registration files with state ID databases. But perfect matching is impossible, and the effect is to overestimate the number of voters without identification.
Take Texas, a state with a particularly onerous voter ID law. If I register to vote as “Nate” but my ID says “Nathan,” I might be counted among the hundreds of thousands of registered voters without a photo ID. But I’ll be fine at the polling station on Election Day with a name that’s “substantially similar” to the one on file. The matching issues run well beyond substantive ones like nicknames. If you’ve ever worked with voter files, you know that they’re rife with minor errors — like a first name in the middle name column — that prevent exact matching. The scale of the matching problem was highlighted in a North Carolina Board of Elections study last year. The state used a long list of matching criteria, ranging from names and Social Security numbers and date of birth to a “soundex” comparison to test for names that were entered slightly off but sound the same. After additional matching criteria, the number of unmatched registered voters plummeted from 1.24 million to 318,643.
Even that figure likely overstates the number of registered voters without a valid identification, since many voters have valid identifications that aren’t issued by the states. Passports, student IDs and military IDs are often allowed.