Wisconsin Republicans enacted a restrictive voter identification law in May 2011, just months after they took control of both houses of the state legislature and the governorship for the first time in over two decades.
The timing of that law, which made it more difficult for low-income and minority Wisconsinites to cast a vote, was no coincidence. A new study in the journal American Politics Research finds that states are more likely to pass voter ID laws soon after their governments switch to Republican control.
Republicans newly in charge of state legislatures are also more likely to embrace voter ID laws if their states have large black and Latino populations, according to the study from Daniel Biggers, a law professor at the University of California, Riverside, and Michael Hanmer, a professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Those lawmakers often contend that stricter voter ID requirements help reduce voter fraud, but in-person voter fraud is exceptionally rare. An analysis of voter fraud from 2000 to 2014, published in The Washington Post, found just 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation. Still, President Donald Trump has claimed, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election and called for an investigation into voter fraud.
Between Trump’s encouragement and November’s election results, the study’s findings would suggest that more voter ID laws are on the horizon. Republicans won majorities in both chambers of the legislatures in Iowa, Kentucky and Minnesota ― meaning they now have total control in 32 states, an all-time high. Iowa is already considering a voter ID proposal.
“It’s not just that you have Republicans in power. It’s that you have Republicans who have just come into power,” Biggers told The Huffington Post. “They’ve just taken over the mechanism necessary to implement these laws and they are more likely to adopt these laws, with one potential motivation being that they want to adopt these laws before they lose the ability to adopt them.”
He also noted that passing strict voter ID laws can give Republican legislators, “even if it’s on the margins, a better chance of retaining their offices.”
Between 1972 and 2013, the study found, states were 7.9 percent more likely to implement a photo ID law after Republicans took complete control of a state legislature than in periods of steady GOP control, Democratic control or split control of the legislature. After a state switched to a Republican governor, it was 5.4 percent more likely to adopt a photo ID law.
The size of the local minority population also seemed to be a factor in whether a state where Republicans had just taken control of the legislature would adopt a photo ID law: States with higher percentages of African-Americans were 7 percent more likely to pass a law requiring photo ID. States with higher percentages of Latinos were 5.5 percent more likely to do so.
In most cases, Biggers said, the lawmakers appeared to be influenced by the size of both the black and Latino communities.
“No matter how you define voter ID laws, very strict voter ID laws, some are more lenient, no matter what time period you look at, it’s consistently the case that the percent black, the percent Latino in the state is influencing whether or not the states are adopting these things,” he said.
The chances of implementing voter ID increased after 2002. In the most recent years covered by the study, states were 23.8 percent more likely to implement a photo ID law after Republicans took control of the state legislature and 19.2 percent more likely after switching to a Republican governor.
Biggers and Hanmer attribute the spike to the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002. The federal law requires first-time voters who register by mail to show ID the first time they vote, a change that the researchers suggest “awakened” Republicans to the possibility of extending voter ID laws to the entire electorate.
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