Want to Scare People About Voter Fraud? Show Them These Pictures
With just over two weeks left until Election Day, states and courts across the nation continue to debate over voter ID laws. The Supreme Court cleared the way for restrictive ID laws to go forward in Ohio and North Carolina this week (after the lower courts ruled them unconstitutional) and then intervened to stop another identification law from going into effect in Wisconsin.
While there have been no documented cases of widespread voter fraud in recent times, that hasn’t stopped people from buying into the hype that elections are being rigged, particularly by people of color. Now a study conducted by professors at the University of Delaware has found that white Americans are more likely to support voter ID laws when they have viewed pictures of black people voting.
Professors David C. Wilson and Paul Brewer oversaw the survey, which consisted of a nationally representative sample of 1,436 adults. During the study, participants were assigned to three groups and asked about their views on voter ID laws while being shown a picture of African Americans, one of whites, or no photo at all.
No matter which picture they viewed, African American and Hispanic respondents showed no difference in preference for voter ID laws. However, when white participants were shown a picture of a black person voting, 73 percent expressed a preference for voter ID laws. In comparison, when white respondents were shown a picture of a white person or no picture at all, only 67 percent said they favored voting ID laws. While all of the respondents favored requiring government-issued identification to vote, researchers deemed the 6 percent difference in white responses “statistically significant.”
In 2007, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice published a report concluding, “Allegations of widespread voter fraud…often prove greatly exaggerated,” and “many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire. The allegations simply do not pan out.”
But after record numbers of young people and voters of color flooded the polls in 2008 and in 2012, electing and reelecting America’s first nonwhite president, Republican leaders across the country vowed to get tough on voter fraud. According to some politicians and talking heads, Obama’s election was due, at least in part, to lax identification laws that permitted ineligible citizens to cast votes.
Last year, Don Yelton, a former precinct chair in the Buncombe County, North Carolina, Republican Party, admitted that North Carolina’s voter ID laws, which many have called the most restrictive in the nation, were “going to kick the Democrats in the butt.” Yelton then confirmed what many critics of such laws have insisted since they began popping up after the 2010 Republican midterm electoral wave.
“If it hurts a bunch of college kids that’s too lazy to get up off their bohunkus and get a photo ID, so be it,” Yelton said during an interview on The Daily Show. “If it hurts a bunch of lazy blacks that wants the government to give them everything, so be it.” Yelton resigned from his post as precinct chair shortly after his comments made the national news, but the message was clear.
The most recent increase in voter ID laws was spurred by the 2013 Supreme Court decision to gut Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, meaning states with a history of voter suppression no longer needed clearance from the federal government to enact such laws. At the time, Justice John Roberts said the idea of preclearance was “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relation to the present day.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg disagreed, arguing that “throwing out preclearance when it...is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
This latest study gives credit to Ginsburg’s concerns.
“Our findings suggest that public opinion about voter ID laws can be racialized by simply showing images of African American people,” said Wilson about the University of Delaware study. “The resulting increase in support for the laws happens independently of—even after controlling for—political ideology and negative attitudes about African Americans.”
The rainstorms are coming, but without Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, we don’t have a proper umbrella—or the proper laws—to protect our most vulnerable citizens from the onslaught of voter suppression.