In most elections, the intricacies of voting procedures rarely warrant headlines or interest most Americans. But in 2012, voter identification laws took center stage. In fact, in the five years preceding the 2012 election, almost half of states enacted some form of legislation restricting voter access — such as requiring photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote, more stringently regulating voter registration drives, shortening early voting periods, repealing same-day voter registration, or further restricting voting by felons.
What we found was that restrictions on voting derived from both race and class. The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.
More specifically, restrictive proposals were more likely to be introduced in states with larger African-American and non-citizen populations and with higher minority turnout in the previous presidential election. These proposals were also more likely to be introduced in states where both minority and low-income turnout had increased in recent elections. A similar picture emerged for the actual passage of these proposals. States in which minority turnout had increased since the previous presidential election were more likely to pass restrictive legislation.
We also examined just the bills passed in 2011, when the vast majority of bills were adopted. The same findings emerged.
States that passed more restrictive legislation in 2011 were those in which:
• Republicans controlled the governorship and both chambers of the legislative body.
• Forecasters viewed them as potential swing states in the 2012 election.
• Minority turnout was higher in the 2008 presidential election and those which have larger proportions of African-American residents.
Ultimately, recently enacted restrictions on voter access have not only a predictable partisan pattern but also an uncomfortable relationship to the political activism of blacks and the poor.
I think we knew most of this from nearly a decade of observations but I have not seen the link between “swing state” status and new voting restrictions shown before, although of course it occurred to me partly because conservatives in Pennsylvania told us all about it.
Ohio and Florida are the traditional “screw around with the voting rules” states of course, but we saw new efforts to restrict or impede voting in nearly every state that was (rightly or wrongly) designated “in play” in 2012 including North Carolina, Iowa, Virginia, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.