White voters are more likely to support restrictive voter ID laws when they are shown photos of African American voters, according to a new study. The findings were released as courts are considering the constitutionality of voter ID laws across the country with just three weeks until the midterm elections.
The University of Delaware study, released last week, found that 67 percent of white voters support voter ID laws when there is no photo provided or when they are shown a photo of white voters, but their support jumps by six percent when they see a photo of African Americans using a voting machine.
“The resulting increase in support for the laws happens independently of — even after controlling for — political ideology and negative attitudes about African Americans,” said David C. Wilson, who supervised the survey of 1,436 U.S. adults nationwide.
The study results echo prior findings that white people are more likely to support harsh criminal justice policies if presented with evidence that our criminal justice system disproportionately targets black people. Other studies have also looked at the discriminatory nature of voter ID laws; an American Political Science Association analysis concluded that states with higher minority turnout are more likely to pass voter suppression laws, including voter ID laws, voter registration limits, early voting and absentee voting restrictions and restrictions on felons’ voting rights.
Although proponents have continued to argue that voter ID laws prevent voter fraud, multiple reports have determined that voter fraud is not a real threat. In August, Harvard Professor Justin Levitt said he found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation when he surveyed more than a billion votes cast in general, primary, special, and municipal elections across the US from 2000 through 2014.
The government has also found that voter ID laws disproportionately affect African Americans. Last week, the Government Accountability Office said that two of the states that heightened their voter ID requirements, Kansas and Tennessee, both saw reductions in voter turnout, with the most pronounced decrease seen among black voters. The report said black turnout in Kansas dropped by 4 percent more than among white voters.
In fact, U.S. District Judge U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos said in her ruling against Texas’ voter ID law last week that the restrictions amount to an “unconstitutional poll tax” that discriminates against African American and Hispanic voters. Although an appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the law could go into effect before the election, the ruling was justified as a way to prevent confusion with the election just weeks away.
The U.S. Supreme Court also blocked Wisconsin from implementing its voter ID law for the midterm, citing the proximity of the upcoming election.
Several states’ strict voter ID laws created confusion at the polls during the primaries, and the back-and-forth of the laws is likely to lead to chaos on Election Day next month. Similar issues emerged in 2012, when many eligible voters were told they could not vote as the election approached because of outdated addresses or typos on their registration forms.