Friday, October 25, 2013

Facile Turnout Stats on Voter ID: Wrong, the First Time

By Associate Professor Justin Levitt

This op-ed originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

Judge Richard Posner and Justice John Stevens wrote the 2007 Court of Appeals'majority opinion and 2008 Supreme Court plurality opinion, respectively, upholding Indiana's strict photo ID law against challenge. Their recent public musings about the merits of the dissenting opinions in those cases are sufficiently unusual to have provoked a flood of commentary.

One of these commentaries stands out. Hans von Spakovsky, who has served as a local election official, at the FEC, and at the Department of Justice, joined the mix again last week. In a piece titled "Right the First Time," Mr. von Spakovsky defends Judge Posner's original opinion upholding the ID law.

His primary argument ridicules the notion that ID has stopped some voters from casting their ballots, by pointing to Indiana's consistent turnout gains since the law was implemented. Indiana's law was implemented in 2006. But turnout increased 2 percent from 2002 to 2006 (including in counties with large minority populations), increased 8 percent for Democrats and 5 percent for black voters from 2004 to 2008, increased (including for black voters) from 2006 to 2010, and increased again for black voters from 2008 to 2012. Therefore, he claims, Indiana's ID law can't possibly have hurt voters, particularly minorities.

I don't know if Mr. von Spakovsky will talk about Kansas: After Kansas implemented a strict ID law in 2012, black turnout dropped by 2 percent, and Latino turnout dropped by 21 percent.

Conclusions about the role of ID from either set of numbers are, of course, nothing but garbage. They should fail Statistics 101 at any school in the country.

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