Some Words of Caution About New Study Finding Voter ID Cost Clinton WI and the Election

Today Ari Berman has an article in The Nation called Wisconsin’s Voter-ID Law Suppressed 200,000 Votes in 2016 (Trump Won by 22,748).

The story relies on a new study from Democrat-aligned Priorities USA finding a great decline in turnout, especially among African-American voters in Wisconsin, purportedly linked to voter id.

The story is getting picked up by Democrats and left leaning smart people across social media, because it confirms what they already think. But there is reason for considerable caution about this study, which is at odds with what other studies of the effect of Wisconsin’s voter id has found. There are questions about the study’s methodology being raised by people who know their stuff:

Eitan Hersh: “No offense, but this is something that is going to be shared hundreds of times and does not meet acceptable evidence standards.”

Nate Cohn: “At this point, the absence of good, file-based research showing a big voter ID effect might be telling.”

Derek Willis: “To expand a bit: yes, turnout in WI was down. I don’t think evidence that voter ID was main cause is there. We looked.”

The biggest effect appears to be in Milwaukee, and this New York Times story from right before the election gives another reason why turnout was down there: Black voters were not motivated to vote for Clinton like they were for Obama. The NYT story is one of the most important things to read about the election.

Yet Keith Ellison, the vice chair of the DNC is passing the 200K figure in the study along as fact. Willis: It’s not.

Once this methodology is pulled apart more, this survey will do more harm than good. Some people will say that because a 200K effect is not proven voter id laws are just fine.

As I’ve said many times, this whole analysis asks the wrong question. The right question is why a state like Wisconsin can burden the right to vote with unnecessary restrictions for no good reason, and for the bad reason of hoping it will suppress Democratic turnout (whether it actually does or not.)

UPDATE: To be fair to Ari, his story does note the potential methodological issues with the study: “It’s important to note that this study was conducted by a Democratic Party–affiliated group and has not been peer-reviewed or gone through the typical academic vetting process. While some studies have shown big reductions in turnout among minority voters because of voter-ID laws, others have not. But the Priorities USA study is consistent with a 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office, which found that strict voter-ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced turnout by 2 percent, enough to swing a close election, with the largest drop-off among newly registered voters, young voters, and voters of color.” I’m afraid these caveats are lost on readers who read only a tweet of the headline.

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