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June 5, 2014 9:11 AM   Subscribe

Study finds strong evidence for discriminatory intent behind voter ID laws State legislators who support voter ID laws are motivated in no small part by racial bias, according to a new study from the University of Southern California. The study finds strong evidence that "discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws."

Paper here. Abstract:

Is bias in responsiveness to constituents conditional on the policy preferences of elected officials? The scholarly conventional wisdom is that constituency groups who do not receive policy representation still obtain some level of responsiveness by legislators outside of the policy realm. In contrast, we present a theory of preference-induced responsiveness bias where constituency responsiveness by legislators is associated with legislator policy preferences. Elected officials who favor laws harming minority groups are also less likely to engage in non-policy responsiveness to minority groups. To test this proposition, we conducted a field experiment in 28 U.S. legislative chambers. Legislators were randomly assigned to receive messages from Latino, Anglo, English-speaking, and Spanish-speaking constituents asking if a driver’s license is required for voting. If legislators supported voter identification, Latino constituents were less likely than Anglo constituents to receive communications from legislators. The implication is that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws.

Bonus: Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws
posted by MisantropicPainforest (53 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Needs the No_shit_Sherlock tag.
posted by theora55 at 9:17 AM on June 5 [43 favorites]


In other news, water wet.
posted by Madamina at 9:18 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


...or Color_Me_Surprised.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:18 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Shocked_Shocked_To_Find_Gambling_In_This_Establishment
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:19 AM on June 5 [18 favorites]


Ya think?
posted by fuse theorem at 9:20 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Yes, of course, but it's good to have these things down in black and white.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:20 AM on June 5 [29 favorites]


oh dear god i can already hear the people who think voter fraud is real coming with excuses for why this study is flawed and has a liberal bias and and and....

is it happy hour yet? i need a drink.
posted by sio42 at 9:21 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


is it happy hour yet? i need a drink.

better have an ID.
posted by Think_Long at 9:23 AM on June 5 [16 favorites]


The only thing more predictable that the results of this research are comments noting how the research was predictable!
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 9:24 AM on June 5 [21 favorites]


While it's attempting to say, no shit, studies like this which attempt to quantify and provide evidence make it easier to fight against these laws.

....sadly, though, that requires some of the people passing these laws to be capable of responding rationally to logic and rhetoric. And that's a smaller obstacle than the idea that some of those legislators just don't care about being racist, and neither do the bulk of their constituencies.
posted by barchan at 9:27 AM on June 5 [9 favorites]


How the hell can you even have a democracy if people are allowed to freely and easily vote ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:27 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


Despite the "predictable research is predictable" issue; take a look at the damning way they proved it. That's just terrible.
posted by odinsdream at 9:29 AM on June 5 [6 favorites]


Alabama GOP offers $1,000 for information on voter fraud
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:35 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Last year when this sort of legislation was passed in North Carolina, I spoke to my State Senator. I asked him what the purpose of the Voter ID law was. He told me it was to make sure that people weren't illegally voting. He then told me some story about polling places being kept open late someplace in the state so that people arriving in buses gathered by the Democratic Party could come vote late and illegally.

So I identified his top concern was to prevent people from voting who are not allowed to vote, and to prevent people from voting more than once. He agreed. He said that we should all be concerned about fraudulent voting and told me that the Voter ID law was designed to prevent it. He said that there was no evidence that it impacted Democrats more than Republicans, but it didn't really matter if it did because the law was easy to comply with and there was no intent to affect one party more than the other.

I then pointed out that absentee ballots do not require that the voter present an ID to anyone at anytime. That struck me as inherently easier to fraudulently cast a vote than it would be to do so in person. If you are caught in person, then you will be arrested and charged with a crime. There is virtually no way to catch the perpetrator who sends in a fraudulent absentee ballot. If we are going to be concerned about fraudulent voting, I asked him, why wouldn't we do something about how easy it is to fraudulently vote via absentee ballots? I suggested to him that they add a provision to the Voter ID law that requires absentee ballots to require notarized signatures. I further suggested they would never do this because more Republicans vote via absentee ballots and that the whole purpose of the law was to suppress Democratic votes. He disagreed that Republicans use absentee ballots more than Democrats. He then said that there was no proof absentee fraud was occurring.

The naked purpose of all of these voting changes is rather obvious: if it prevents Democrats from voting, it should become a law; if it prevents Republicans from voting, it should not be considered.
posted by flarbuse at 9:36 AM on June 5 [43 favorites]


Alabama GOP offers $1,000 for information on voter fraud

Any idea how much it costs to pack and ship a mirror to Montgomery?
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:40 AM on June 5 [10 favorites]


Political parties (okay, some more than others) want to limit voting access to those most likely to vote for their opponents. If that has a correlation along racial lines then yes, there will be a racial component...but the primary driving force is maintaining partisan political power.
posted by rocket88 at 9:42 AM on June 5 [2 favorites]


people arriving in buses

Also known as African Americans.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:44 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


As Charlie Pierce (sarcastically) says, "It is Not About Race because It Is Never About Race. Race is the past. Black people can vote. One of them is president. Nothing Is About Race anymore.".
posted by benito.strauss at 9:47 AM on June 5 [11 favorites]


I already believed the findings of this study, but this is not really demonstrating the motivational/intentional claim. It's just showing a correlation between two kinds of behavior.
posted by anotherpanacea at 9:48 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Political parties (okay, some more than others) want to limit voting access to those most likely to vote for their opponents. If that has a correlation along racial lines then yes, there will be a racial component...but the primary driving force is maintaining partisan political power.

Except there is only one side attempting to limit the voters from another right now. It's the one where they privately and publicly admit to limiting voters to their side, and the one where every single study has shown near-total correlation between voting groups being denied or limited access and what demographics they consider the enemy.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:00 AM on June 5 [14 favorites]


but the primary driving force is maintaining partisan political power.

The poorly-kept secret of Southern politics in the US is that partisan political power is frequently just White Nationalism. So it's sort of a distinction without a difference.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 10:00 AM on June 5 [14 favorites]


This is one of those things where I know we need to actual data and I'm glad the actual data is being collected and analyzed and published, but for Christ's sake of course people who push these terrible, pointless laws are racist shitbags.

Sigh.
posted by rtha at 10:03 AM on June 5 [10 favorites]


i thought everybody knew this already. it certainly wasn't "voter fraud", so wtf else could it be? it isn't just black people, but also college students, poor people generally and any other D-demographic.
posted by bruce at 10:03 AM on June 5 [3 favorites]


ORLY?
posted by Windopaene at 10:05 AM on June 5


one other observation: oregon-style vote-by-mail is the way to go!
posted by bruce at 10:05 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I think the key takeaway from this article is "There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements," which means the entire real thrust of the article is that everyone has unconscious bias. Other notable interest points: supporters of voter ID laws responded to those emails much less overall including the Anglophone names - less than 50% of the time for Anglophones.

I wish there was a breakdown on the Spanish language/English language emails, as well, which might speak more towards which legislators were more likely to have staffers that spoke Spanish more than anything else.
posted by corb at 10:27 AM on June 5


Even when something seems obvious, it's good to actually confirm it in this way. Especially when something seems obvious.
posted by brundlefly at 10:30 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I am always amazed that the Democratic party doesn't co-opt this entire movement by pushing for inexpensive state-issued voter ID and registration and extended voting times so poll workers can have the time they need to properly assess the voter qualifications.

It seems like it could really easily be shifted into a moral push to get all Americans registered to vote that would be impossible for racists or ideologues to argue against.
posted by srboisvert at 10:37 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


Any idea how much it costs to pack and ship a mirror to Montgomery?

You could just fax them pictures of James O'Keefe and Anne Coulter.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:38 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


The efforts of the Republican Party and the Far Right to limit voting are incredibly cynical and unpatriotic. The entire country should cast shame on them for this. See also, gerrymandering.
posted by theora55 at 11:21 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I would like to know how the legislators responded (not just whether or not they did respond). Am I missing that in the paper? Or was it just out of bounds for the study?
posted by jaguar at 11:35 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


RolandOfEld: "...or Color_Me_Surprised."

I see what you did there.
posted by symbioid at 11:46 AM on June 5 [4 favorites]


I know you can't duplicate it exactly because of the language issues, but I'd be interested in seeing the results of a similar study using black constituent names. Even if it only proves water is wet and the sun rises in the east, it's still worth having the research in hand for folks who aren't invested completely in Anything But Racism.

(I'd also be interested in seeing how it works for so-called model minorities and whether they get a break from voter-ID-favoring legislators.)
posted by immlass at 11:52 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]


I think the key takeaway from this article is "There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements," which means the entire real thrust of the article is that everyone has unconscious bias.

Yes,
but crucially this preference was much smaller.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:01 PM on June 5 [10 favorites]


corb: "I think the key takeaway from this article is "There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements," which means the entire real thrust of the article is that everyone has unconscious bias."

That's a rather convenient bit of editing right there. Here's the sentence in its entirety with the bit you decided to leave out bolded for emphasis:
"There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements, but crucially this preference was much smaller.
So, no, I don't think the notion that everybody has some sort of unconscious bias is the real thrust/key takeaway here. That seems like quite a distortion of what the article is stating.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:04 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


I am always amazed that the Democratic party doesn't co-opt this entire movement by pushing for inexpensive state-issued voter ID and registration and extended voting times so poll workers can have the time they need to properly assess the voter qualifications.

Well, Democrats have pushed for extended voting times, and generally get extreme pushback from the GOP. Same goes for early voting, absentee/provisional voting, and pretty much anything meant to give American citizens an expanded (and equal) chance to vote. And since the real reason voter ID is being implemented is precisely because of the difficulty it presents certain groups, and the propaganda hype around voter fraud is so pervasive, the idea of a cheap (itself a relative term) or free voter ID is seen as just another handout.

It seems like it could really easily be shifted into a moral push to get all Americans registered to vote that would be impossible for racists or ideologues to argue against.

You'd be surprised. A good portion of the country is fine with making voting (among other exercises of modern universal rights) as difficult as possible either because they actually believe voter fraud is widespread, or because they think it's a valid excuse to prevent certain groups from voting.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:04 PM on June 5 [9 favorites]


Damn you Rustic Etruscan!!!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:05 PM on June 5


I think the key takeaway from this article is "There was also an Anglophone preference among legislators who had not backed ID requirements," which means the entire real thrust of the article is that everyone has unconscious bias.

This is neither the real point of the article nor factually accurate. One only has to read the plentiful evidence such as that Justice Ginsburg provided in Shelby v. Holder of multiple instances of legislators explicitly using race and other factors to push voting laws determined to have been discriminatory. Every once in a while, one of them slips up and says it out loud to what they thing is a crowd amenable to the message. Language has nothing to with it, apart from the extant hostility towards those who view the speaking of other languages with suspicion and contempt.
posted by zombieflanders at 12:19 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


How to bury the lede:

State legislators who support voter ID laws are motivated in no small part by racial bias, according to a new study from the University of Southern California.

The fix:

Voter ID laws are supported by racist State Legislators, according to a new study from the University of Southern California."
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:22 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


So, no, I don't think the notion that everybody has some sort of unconscious bias is the real thrust/key takeaway here. That seems like quite a distortion of what the article is stating.

As is typical in these things, the actual paper is much more cautious than either the abstract or the WaPo coverage. They say explicitly that they can't judge intent, and use weasel words like "may." If everyone has this bias, and some people have it more, that's not sufficient reason to claim that the bias is what causes or motivates support for voter id laws.

This sort of thing is so overdetermined that establishing causality or motivation is going to be tough. Politicians can support voter id laws for both mistaken-but-principled reasons and they can support voter id laws for bigoted-and-unprincipled reasons. They can also just support them because that's what their party supports, and the party can have different reasons than the politician. It's really bad social science to take a single correlation and ascribe causality to it.

Notice that the paper hasn't been published in a peer reviewed journal; it's just a "working paper." It's provocative and supports OUR biases, but it's not rigorous enough to justify its conclusion.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:29 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


In the run-up to the 2012 election, during the last round of voter ID laws, I was listening to some radio discussion on the subject in my car. There was the requisite pundit asserting that the laws don't discriminate against poor people or minorities. While he was talking, I drove past an old black man riding in an electric wheelchair on the right side of a narrow, two-lane road with no sidewalk and a steep, unpaved shoulder.

About an hour later I had finished some of my errands and I passed the same man again. He had gone about two miles, now on a busy five-lane road with a paved shoulder. He was almost to the Wal-mart.

I figure his Wal-mart trip took him at least three hours, assuming he actually shopped for anything inside, most of which time was quite dangerous. (At the time I would frequently bicycle that same two-lane road, but I gave it up in favor of other routes after too many people insisted on passing me around curves and winding up in oncoming traffic.) I wasn't able to ask him whether it'd be a burden to get a voter ID, but I suspect I know the answer.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:30 PM on June 5 [6 favorites]


The only thing more predictable that the results of this research are comments noting how the research was predictable!

Or to put it another way, this is my "surprised at all the 'this is my surprised face' comments" face.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:40 PM on June 5 [3 favorites]


It's really bad social science to take a single correlation and ascribe causality to it.

True, but who is doing that? The journalists, not the scholars. FTFA:

"we present a theory of preference-induced responsiveness bias where constituency
responsiveness by legislators is associated with legislator policy preferences. Elected officials who favor laws harming minority groups are also less likely to engage in non-policy responsiveness to minority groups."

"The same legislators who are unlikely to respond to requests for
assistance from minority constituents may also be the ones least likely to vote in favor of public policies that could serve the substantive needs of minority constituents"

"Based on our theory, we argue that legislators who propose or support voter identification laws are also likely to show biases in responsiveness to Latino constituents relative to white constituents. "

"Our results show that responsiveness bias is conditioned
by legislator policy preferences. This empirical evidence also suggests that discriminatory intent underlies legislative support for voter identification laws in U.S. legislatures, thereby potentially opening the laws up to constitutional challenge"

"No study has attempted to assess whether revealed discriminatory behavior by legislators is associated with support for restrictive voting rights laws"

They don't go so far to conclude that support for Voter ID laws is driven by racism, but they do suggest it, and provide a theory for it (by claiming that non-policy responsiveness from legislators is not independent from policy responsiveness) and evidence (other literature showing that racist attitudes that aren't electorally strategic can explain support for Voter ID laws)
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 1:02 PM on June 5 [2 favorites]


I'm shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.
posted by Carillon at 2:01 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


MisantropicPainforest, the authors do ascribe intent and causality in the abstract and conclusion. Look at the last sentence of the abstract; it doesn't follow at all, but you expect to see the evidence in the paper. They also write more careful sentences, some of which you quote.

It's a fairly standard move in the social sciences to put weak but provocative work on SSRN. Economists have been doing this sort of thing for years: journalists and bloggers can say that a "study claims x" and allow the peer review refutations or cautions to come later, when it will inevitably be ignored.

Mostly I think scholars and researchers are responsible for the bad science communication environment we live in.
posted by anotherpanacea at 3:02 PM on June 5 [1 favorite]


You know you're in trouble when the less odious position is that they're making an undemocratic naked power grab rather than a racist naked power grab.
posted by Justinian at 3:09 PM on June 5 [8 favorites]


The Republicans are already proving it has nothing to do with actual voter fraud:

Iowa’s Republican Secretary of State Just Proved That Voter ID Laws Are Unnecessary
Nearly two years and $250,000 later, Schultz said that 238 total cases of suspected election misconduct were investigated. [...] That means, at most, the investigation found a 0.008427933% rate of voter fraud.
Florida GOP-Led Voter Fraud Investigation Finds Nothing—Except GOP Fraud
An investigation into the issue of voter registration fraud in the Sunshine State initiated by Florida Repulicans has unearthed no evidence of wrongdoing—except on the part of the GOP. Florida's Secretary of State Ken Detzner
Pennsylvania Voter ID Laws 'Stink,' Says Republican Community Leader
"The whole thing stinks," Lawson told The Huffington Post on Friday afternoon. "They say the reason they did this is because of all the fraud going on. But I happen to be a former Republican chairman of the county, I've been on the city council, I've been a township commissioner, and I've never seen it or heard anyone complain about voter fraud."
And a few months ago I rounded up some stats about GOP-led voter fraud in this comment.

Unfortunately, the mainstream news media has simply abdicated their responsibility to provide impartial reporting on current events, so for now this study is just preaching to the choir. I think that, like SSM, this won't become a real issue with the general public until the effects start hitting people close to home. Fortunately, the GOP is getting so desperate and their restrictions so draconian that non-poors, PoC, and Texas judges are getting swept up in the nets and they are starting to eat their own.

It's not that I don't appreciate the study, but we shouldn't need to prove why this happening. if I can pull this comment together while I'm folding laundry then CNN can break away from their missing plane coverage and MSNBC can preempt whatever fucking prison show they're binge-broadcasting to throw up a breaking news banner and report this stuff objectively, urgently, and without giving the politicians and operatives behind the voter ID laws the credibility of equal air time.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:22 PM on June 5 [16 favorites]


Makes sense that you'd still want to allow vote by mail, even if that wasn't majority-R.

Because then you can make some technical rule for votes to get denied, and you don't even have to do it to someone's face. Or even tell them.
posted by ctmf at 6:51 PM on June 5


the authors do ascribe intent and causality

I quoted parts where the authors do provide evidence and theory for the hypothesis (not a conclusion!) that this is driven by racist intents. Moreover, since we are drawing fine distinctions and critiquing social science methods, I don't know what you mean by 'ascribe intent and causality'. Does it mean they suggest it? claim they 'prove' it? provide direct empirical evidence for it? just propose it as a possible explanation? 'Ascribe' simply isn't a technical term in social science literature so it doesn't help me understand exactly what you are claiming.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 5:36 AM on June 6


a racist naked power grab

i dont want to think of any of these terrible people naked
posted by elizardbits at 5:47 PM on June 6


Or naked and grabby.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:34 AM on June 7


Martin Longman: The Right’s Turn Away from Representative Government
The Republicans have concluded, as Mo Elleithee said, that the path to electoral victory isn’t to craft the better campaign or come up with the most broadly appealing policies, but to control the shape of the electorate by making it smaller. This puts their entire political party at odds with the cherished ideals of representative government. It also has an inevitable racial component, since the best visual predictor of how someone will vote is the color of their skin.

Part of this is explained by the fact that the GOP has a lot of rotten people in it, but I understand that if you are socially or fiscally conservative you want to have your views prevail, and if your views aren’t prevailing you’ll begin to devalue other objectives like determining the true will of the people. If everything I cared about was at risk because my party couldn’t win elections, I might start to waver on this whole democracy thing, too.

I understand that it’s easy to be for the broadest possible electorate when that clearly advances your political goals, and that it becomes hard when it doesn’t. But what’s so depressing about this is that this country has sorted itself into a political alignment where one party sees disenfranchisement and disengagement as their best hope.

I also see this as a consequence of the Conservative Movement’s fervent desire not to have to change their core beliefs about anything. They don’t want to moderate their positions on gay marriage or abortion or immigration, and as those positions become giant liabilities they feel that their only option is to turn against individual voters and try to keep them from casting their votes.

This is related to all the calls for secession, for example, in the rural areas of Colorado and California. It’s really taking on an ugly tone, with expressions of racism and xenophobia combined with a growing disdain for our democratic system of government. When you combine it with the libertarian strain in the GOP, it really begins to resemble fascism, because it’s nationalistic, race-based, often pro-corporate (although it has populist anti-corporate elements, too), anti-immigrant, and basically revolutionary in its opposition to the central government. Add in the attraction to pseudoscience and “creating their own facts,” its basic anti-intellectualism, its source of strength with the “job-creating” small entrepreneurs (anti-communist bourgeoisie) and you begin to see too many parallels with the fascists of old.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:49 AM on June 9 [6 favorites]


The Right’s Turn Away from Representative Government

I firmly believe that what we are seeing is no longer about ideology but is now a full-blown extinction burst.
posted by Room 641-A at 1:59 PM on June 9


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