Listening to the mainstream media, you’d think state governments are actively turning U.S. citizens away from voting booths because they can’t produce a picture ID. You’d think this is the beginning of the end of democracy as we know it. But most of these stories are based on bad data.
[A] recent example of incorrect use of statistics occurred in Virginia when The Washington Post and advocacy groups claimed that anywhere from 450,000 to over 1.1 million Virginians would be unable to vote because they lacked a photo ID. Those claims failed to include any data on registered Virginia voters who possess forms of ID other than a driver’s license that are also acceptable under the law, such as a U.S. passport; a university-issued photo ID; a federal, state, or local government employee photo ID card; or a military identification card.
Surveys do show that 70 percent of the U.S. public supports voter ID laws, but the continued widespread circulation of inaccurate information may have a negative effect on the public’s perception:
Support for photo ID may fall if the public is perpetually fed partial data or inaccurate information. For example, a recent survey by the University of Delaware demonstrated that support for photo ID laws dropped by 12 percent when the survey question stated that requiring the presentation of a photo ID may ‘prevent people who are eligible to vote from voting.’
Opponents have worked very hard to change the portrayal of photo ID from being a common-sense election administration reform supported by a majority of the public and recommended by experts and organizations such as the bipartisan Commission on Federal Election Reform, otherwise known as the Carter–Baker Commission, to being recast as the reimposition of ‘Jim Crow.’ But turnout data from multiple states with photo ID laws show that these laws are not in fact preventing eligible voters from voting.
Using faulty data, the media masterminded the public’s change in perception of voter ID laws from a common sense solution to form of repression. This has real and potentially dangerous consequences because it inhibits rational policy debates.
What do you think? Are voter ID laws suppressing Americans’ right to vote?