Photo ID could disenfranchise more Republican voters than you think
If the photo voter ID amendment passes in November, Republicans could face electoral losses in 2014.
It’s a commonplace that the photo voter ID amendment, if it passes, would benefit Republicans in future elections. That’s what Pennsylvania GOP House Leader Mike Turzai thinks, but that’s not nearly as clear cut as he believes. (And, of course, the Pennsylvania ID law was dealt a serious blow today.) The photo voter ID amendment will decrease overall turnout, but it’s not just DFL voters that will lose the ability to vote.
I oppose the amendment. It’s bad public policy. High voter turnout is good for the civic life of our state and voter disenfranchisement is wrong, regardless of who is losing their ability to vote. But there are a number of Republican leaning voter groups who would be directly affected by an ID requirement.
Rural and Older Voters
One significant group of voters are rural voters who are more likely to vote Republican. They’ll be affected for two reasons.
First, the language of the amendment requires that all voters be subject to “substantially equivalent” verification of the voting eligibility. This will be a problem for those who vote by mail, since they cannot present an ID card like voters who cast a ballot in person. Since the amendment is silent on what “substantially equivalent” would mean, we’re left to make assumptions about what might happen. Approximately 45,000 rural voters in Minnesota live in mail-in precincts, where there is no physical polling location. Counties and townships may have to reestablish polling locations at significant cost to the counties. This would also force voters to travel a significant distance to vote, which would probably depress voter turnout.
Second, even in places where rural voters can cast a ballot in person, the ID requirement and provisional ballots would unduly disadvantage voters who are furthest from their county seat. If a rural voter in Crane Lake, Minnesota were to forget their ID and go to the polls, they could cast a provisional ballot but would then have a short time to travel to the county auditor’s office in Duluth, over 100 miles away. While that’s an extreme example, the travel distance for greater Minnesota voters to verify provisional ballots would selectively disenfranchise rural voters.
Then there are voters who do not have valid ID because they are elderly and no longer drive. Acquiring valid ID would be difficult for many of these voters, especially those who are in nursing homes or are in poor health. This group of voters also skews Republican, and they have very high turnout.
Besides the issue of voters who would not vote if an ID requirement passed, there are also thousands of voters who will cast votes in different places. Most of these are college students who would cast a vote at a precinct near their school, but hold IDs with their parent’s address. In this case, strict ID requirements will decrease student voting, but will also displace some voters from a precinct at their school to a precinct at their parent’s address.
In nearly every case, the school precinct of these student voters is in a district that is the deepest shade of blue. Precincts around the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities are among the most lopsided in the state. The legislative districts near the U of M have huge partisan advantage for the DFL. While there are colleges and universities in more purple districts (such as Winona State University and St. Cloud State University,) there are very few in reliably conservative areas. In most cases, if a voter is displaced by an ID requirement, it will be from an area where their vote matters very little in legislative and congressional elections to an area where their vote could affect a legislative or congressional election.
The number of votes that are displaced may be small, but legislative elections can be decided by a tiny number of votes. Just ask Rep. King Banaian or Rep. Kelby Woodard. What you are basically doing is spreading DFL-leaning voters all over the state instead of concentrating them in areas that are already overwhelmingly blue.
This effect is not simply internal to Minnesota. Due to tuition reciprocity, many Wisconsin students attend Minnesota schools. In 2012, there are no competitive statewide candidate elections. Wisconsin could be a swing state in the Presidential election and the Senate race between Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson is very close. Several hundred votes could make all the difference. That many votes could easily be displaced across the border if a voter ID requirement made voting at school impossible.
Republican recount dysfunction
Provisional ballots would create a post-election day circus in a tight race. Imagine, if you will, the craziness that would have erupted if the Franken-Coleman recount was preceded by a week where both campaigns attempted to turn out provisional voters to their county auditor’s office to verify their eligibility. Most of the time, provisional ballots will be discarded since most elections aren’t close enough to merit a voter spending the time to make sure their ballot is counted in an election that’s already been decided. But in the case of an extremely close election, campaigns will fight for every provisional ballot.
On this count, Republicans have a bad track record. The last two recounts went badly for Republicans, not because they were “jobbed” or the election was stolen, but because they haven’t been as well organized. And now, saddled with over a million dollars in debt from the last recount, Republicans will have to rebuild. The DFL’s recount team has simply been better. Provisional ballots would create a hugely expensive second phase in a tight election, and most of the structural elements favor the DFL. Their voters are more likely to be in densely populated counties that can get to a county office to verify eligibility. Outreach to these voters will be easier in large media markets. And Republican donors will be gun shy after the Emmer recount debacle showed that debt from a botched recount operation can take down the entire party for an election cycle.
The bottom line is that nobody can say with certainty who will be electorally advantaged by this amendment, in large measure because if it passes we won’t know the details until the Legislature acts to implement it. But Republicans who see this as a silver bullet that will limit Democratic turnout while sparing their own voters are deluded. Remember, after implementing a strict voter ID law in 2008, Indiana then proceeded to go for Obama. It was the first time a Democrat carried Indiana since 1964.
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