Study links Voter ID laws to bias among lawmakers

Written by Thomas Natalini, Common Cause Intern on June 6, 2014


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A new study by researchers at the University of Southern California argues that bias among state legislators against Latino voters is an important factor in the passage of tough voter ID laws across the country.

The laws ostensibly are designed to prevent voter fraud, but the researchers said there's almost no evidence that such fraud is a problem in U.S. elections. Common Cause and other critics suggest the laws are driven by partisanship, passed by Republican-majority legislatures hoping to drive down voter turnout among largely Democratic voting blocs.

To conduct the study, researchers posing as constituents with questions about voter ID requirements emailed 1,871 state legislators in 14 states, leading up to the 2012 election. Some of the messages were signed, "Jacob Smith," others carried the name "Santiago Rodriguez." The messages also varied in language, one group entirely in English, another either partly or fully in Spanish.

Strikingly, legislators who had supported voter ID laws were dramatically less likely to respond to Santiago, than to Jacob. The researchers said this demonstrated a clear bias for the Anglo name over the Hispanic. They said such bias is normally very difficult to pinpoint, as it is often subconscious, but the clear evidence uncovered by the study could buttress legal challenges to the constitutionality of ID requirements.

More information, including a detailed graph illustrating the findings, is available here.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

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