GAO Report on Voter ID Laws Finds Laws Can Decrease Voter Turnout, Finds Measuring In Person Voter Fraud Difficult

From the summary of the report, Issues Related to State Voter Identification Laws:

What GAO Found
The studies GAO reviewed on voter ownership of certain forms of identification
(ID) documents show that most registered voters in the states that were the
focus of these studies possessed the selected forms of state-issued ID, and the
direct costs of required ID vary by state. GAO identified 10 studies of driver’s
license and state ID ownership, which showed that estimated ownership rates
among all registered voters ranged from 84 to 95 percent, and that rates varied
by racial and ethnic groups. For example, one study estimated that 85 percent of
White registered voters and 81 percent of African-American registered voters in
one state had a valid ID for voting purposes. The costs and requirements to
obtain certain forms of ID, including a driver’s license, state ID, or free state ID,
vary by state. GAO identified direct costs for these forms of ID in 17 states that
require voters to present a photo or government-issued ID at the polls and do not
allow voters to affirm their own identities, and found that driver’s license direct
costs, for example, range from $14.50 to $58.50.
Another 10 studies GAO reviewed showed mixed effects of various forms of
state voter ID requirements on turnout. All 10 studies examined general elections
before 2008, and 1 of the 10 studies also included the 2004 through 2012
general elections. Five of these 10 studies found that ID requirements had no
statistically significant effect on turnout; in contrast 4 studies found decreases in
turnout and 1 found an increase in turnout that were statistically significant.
GAO conducted a quasi-experimental analysis to compare voter turnout in
Kansas and Tennessee to turnout in the four comparison states that did not have
changes in their voter ID requirements from the 2008 to 2012 general elections.
In selecting these states from among 14 potential states that modified their ID
requirements and 35 potential comparison states, GAO applied criteria to ensure
that the states did not have other factors present in their election environments
that may have significantly affected turnout. GAO selected states that did not
experience contemporaneous changes to other election laws that may have
significantly affected voter turnout; had presidential general elections where the
margin of victory did not substantially change from 2008 to 2012 and all other
statewide elections, such as U.S. Senate races, were non-competitive in both the
2008 and 2012 general elections; and ballot questions were not present,
noncompetitive, or similarly competitive in both the 2008 and 2012 general
elections. GAO analyzed three sources of data on turnout among eligible and
registered voters, including data from official voter records and a nationwide
survey. GAO’s evaluation of voter turnout suggests that turnout decreased in two
selected states—Kansas and Tennessee—from the 2008 to the 2012 general
elections (the two most recent general elections) to a greater extent than turnout
decreased in the selected comparison states—Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware,
and Maine. GAO’s analysis suggests that the turnout decreases in Kansas and
Tennessee beyond decreases in the comparison states were attributable to
changes in those two states’ voter ID requirements. GAO found that turnout
among eligible and registered voters declined more in Kansas and Tennessee
than it declined in comparison states—by an estimated 1.9 to 2.2 percentage
points more in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points more in Tennessee—
and the results were consistent across the different data sources and voter
populations used in the analysis.

To further assess the validity of the results of this analysis, GAO (1) compared
Kansas and Tennessee with different combinations of comparison states and
with individual comparison states, and (2) controlled for demographic
characteristics that can affect turnout, such as age, education, race, and sex.
GAO also conducted an analysis using survey data on registrants from Kansas
and Tennessee and a nationwide comparison group of all states other than the
selected comparison states. These additional analyses produced consistent
results. GAO’s estimates are limited to turnout in the 2012 general election in
Kansas and Tennessee and do not apply to other states or time periods.
GAO also estimated changes in turnout among subpopulations of registrants in
Kansas and Tennessee according to their age, length of voter registration, and
race or ethnicity. In both Kansas and Tennessee, compared with the four
comparison states, GAO found that turnout was reduced by larger amounts:
• among registrants, as of 2008, between the ages of 18 and 23 than among
registrants between the ages of 44 and 53;
• among registrants who had been registered less than 1 year than among
registrants who had been registered 20 years or more; and
• among African-American registrants than among White, Asian-American, and
Hispanic registrants. GAO did not find consistent reductions in turnout among
Asian-American or Hispanic registrants compared to White registrants, thus
suggesting that the laws did not have larger effects among these subgroups.

A small portion of total provisional ballots in Kansas and Tennessee were cast for ID reasons in 2012, and less than half were counted. In Kansas, 2.2 percent of all provisional ballots in 2012 were cast due to ID reasons, and 37 percent of these provisional ballots were counted. In Tennessee, 9.5 percent of all provisional ballots in 2012 were cast due to ID reasons and 26 percent were counted. Provisional ballots cast for ID reasons may not be counted for a variety of reasons in Kansas and Tennessee, including the voter not providing valid ID during or following an election. GAO’s analysis showed that provisional ballot use increased between the 2008 and 2012 general elections by 0.35 percentage points in Kansas and by 0.17 percentage points in Tennessee, relative to all other comparison states combined; these findings are not generalizable.

Challenges exist in using available information to estimate the incidence of in person voter fraud. For the purposes of this report, “incidence” is defined as the number of separate times a crime is committed during a specific time period. Estimating the incidence of crime involves using information on the number of crimes known to law enforcement authorities—such as crime data submitted to a central repository based on uniform offense definitions—to generate a reliable set of crime statistics. Based on GAO’s review of studies by academics and others and information from federal and state agencies, GAO identified various challenges in information available for estimating the incidence of in-person voter fraud that make it difficult to determine a complete picture of such fraud. First, the studies GAO reviewed identified few instances of in-person voter fraud, but contained limitations in, for example, the completeness of information sources used. Second, no single source or database captures the universe of allegations or cases of in-person voter fraud across federal, state, and local levels, in part because responsibility for addressing election fraud is shared among federal, state, and local authorities. Third, federal and state agencies vary in the extent they collect information on election fraud in general and in-person voter fraud in particular, making it difficult to estimate the incidence of in-person voter fraud.

In comments on draft report excerpts the Kansas, Tennessee, and Arkansas Secretary of State Offices disagreed with GAO’s criteria for selecting treatment and comparison states and Kansas and Tennessee questioned the reliability of one dataset used to assess turnout. GAO notes that any policy evaluation in a non-experimental setting cannot account for all unobserved factors that could potentially impact the results. However, GAO believes its methodology was robust and valid as, among other things, GAO’s selection of treatment and comparison states controlled for factors that could significantly affect voter turnout, and GAO used three data sources it determined to be reliable to assess turnout effects.

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