- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hillary Rodham Clinton and her Democratic allies are shining a bright light on voter ID laws and other perceived roadblocks to the ballot box, yet drawing a straight line from laws designed to crack down on fraud to low turnout in a single contest is notably difficult, analysts say, and data on the most recent elections tend to lag behind the fast-moving debate.

Individual contests, the amount of time and money spent on each campaign and the weather can be major factors in how many people show up at the polls on Election Day, clouding a debate that has roiled courts and kicked up dust among progressives who say minorities and the poor have been disenfranchised.

Many analysts point to a Government Accountability Office study that found turnout dropped by roughly 2 percent in Kansas and Tennessee from the 2008 to the 2012 contests, compared with states that didn’t change their voter ID laws. Yet analysts say the record of impartial studies is limited, and researchers are still breaking down November’s midterm contests.

“There have been political scientists who’ve tried to study the effect of these laws — the truth is it’s very, very difficult to measure the effect of a single law on an election,” said Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, which is fighting some of the states’ voter ID laws in court.

“What we do know is how many documented instances there are of voter impersonation,” he said. “Zero is the answer.”

Conservative groups say states have the right to enact laws that build confidence in the security of their elections, while the other side has stockpiled testimonials from people who say they were turned away at the polls or discouraged from showing up at all.

Thirty-four states have laws requiring each voter to show a form of ID at the polls, although only 32 of the measures are in effect, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Pennsylvania’s was struck down in the courts, and North Carolina’s is set to take effect next year. North Carolina has made it easier to obtain IDs, changing the tone of an upcoming trial over the state’s election laws.

As matters stand, eight states — Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin — have strict photo ID requirements, in which voters without acceptable identification may cast provisional ballots, the validity of which are determined after Election Day.

“Those are the ones we’re concerned about,” Mr. Ho said.

Three other states — Arizona, North Dakota and Ohio — have strict laws that allow non-photo identification, and the rest have a patchwork of strict laws in which voters may sign affidavits of identity or have poll workers vouch for them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“My sense is that the states that are going to restrict have already done so,” said Richard Briffault, a Columbia Law School professor. “What we are seeing is the beginning of a litigation counterattack by the Democratic Party — particularly in key swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina.”

Mrs. Clinton homed in on voter access during a speech in Houston last month, in which she called out former Texas Gov. Rick Perry and several other potential Republican rivals by name and accused them of using voter ID and other election laws to bar blacks and poor Americans from polls.

“Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting,” said Mrs. Clinton, a former first lady, senator and secretary of state who is the overwhelming front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Perry said Mrs. Clinton demeaned the people of Texas, as a “vast majority” of state residents support the voter ID law.

Not to be outdone, Mrs. Clinton’s chief rival for the Democratic nomination — Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont — called for an expansion of voting rights in the wake of a Supreme Court decision last week that upheld a state’s right to redraw congressional districts with an independent commission, a method designed to reduce partisan gerrymandering.

“We still must go further. It’s time to restore the Voting Rights Act, expand early voting periods and make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” Mr. Sanders said, criticizing a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that freed states, mostly in the South, from having to get advanced federal approval for changes to their voting laws and practices.

The Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups are rejecting progressives’ claims by taking a deep dive into the numbers on voter ID.

“Not only is there no evidence whatsoever that voter ID in any way decreased turnout, Texas seemed to do better in the 2014 election than many states without voter ID laws in place,” said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at Heritage who is drafting a paper on the Lone Star State’s experience with its law.

Still others say fluctuations in turnout aren’t the story.

“The story is whether any Americans are disenfranchised, and for what?” said Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice. “There’s not a great deal of evidence these laws are more effective at making our elections more secure.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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