voter ID laws

A new study has concluded that strict new voter ID laws in the swing state of Wisconsin suppressed black turnout in the 2016 election by roughly 20 percent.

The Wisconsin State Journal recently reported on the study conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) — a liberal think tank — which examined U.S. Census figures, polling data, and state voter rolls. CAP’s study focused on the effect of recently enacted, stringent voter ID laws in swing states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, which simultaneously all went for former President Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.

In comparing African American voter participation in those states between 2012 and 2016, CAP concluded that, were it not for the implementation of laws making it harder for citizens to register to vote, the resulting higher turnout from black voters would have meant a Democratic victory in 2016:

If black turnout and support rates in 2016 had matched 2012 levels, Democrats would have held Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin and flipped North Carolina, for a 323 to 215 Electoral College victory… increasing engagement, mobilization, and representation of people of color must remain an important and sustained goal of Democrats.

In Wisconsin, for example, the eligible turnout rate for African Americans fell precipitously from 74 percent in 2012 to just 55.1 percent in 2016. An investigation by Mother Jones found that almost 41,000 fewer people voted in Milwaukee — which has the state’s largest African American population — in 2016 compared to 2012. Hillary Clinton only lost Wisconsin to Donald Trump by a margin of 22,748 votes. The state made it remarkably difficult to comply with the new voter ID laws. As John Oliver pointed out, one town in Wisconsin responsible for providing voter ID was only open for four days total in 2016.

The Badger State’s stringent voter ID laws date back to 2011, when Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill requiring all voters to have a valid photo ID — either a driver’s license, state-issued ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers, or tribal ID to register. Approximately 300,000 Wisconsin voters (largely low-income voters and voters of color) lacked the requirements to register under the new law. A federal judge blocked the law in 2014, but the law was later overturned by a conservative-dominated appeals court, allowing it to apply to voters in the 2016 election.

Outside of Wisconsin, voters in several other swing states were hamstrung by voter ID laws. In Michigan, which Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump by just 10,704 votes, black voter participation was down 0.4 percent, while latino voter participation was down 0.3 percent, according to CAP’s study. Even in Pennsylvania, where a federal judge struck down the state’s voter ID law as unconstitutional, voters still reported being asked to give photo ID before they were given a ballot.

While conservatives claim voter ID laws like Wisconsin’s are necessary to stop voters fraudulently casting ballots, there is no hard evidence that voter fraud was ever a serious problem that tipped election results toward one particular party. A Loyola law school professor’s study found only 31 cases of voter fraud out of more than one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014, and the Washington Post reported that there were just four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election out of roughly 130 million votes.


Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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