Winning Proposal to the Pierce Scholar's Fund: 2014 Competition

Project Title: The Paticipatory Consequences of Voter ID Laws: Demobilization and Counter-Mobilization

Faculty Sponsors: Nicholas Valentino

Graduate Student: Fabian Guy Neuner

Project Description

Thirty U.S. States have now adopted voter identification (ID) laws. Proponents of these identification requirements contend that they are necessary to ensure the integrity of the electoral system by safeguarding against voter fraud. However, recent scholarship has been very explicit in likening these measures to the Jim Crow laws, providing evidence that the enactment of restrictions is driven by strategic partisan concerns. Following this logic it has been argued that these laws will disenfranchise certain societal groups, notably racial and ethnic minorities as well as the poor, thus depressing turnout of these groups on election day. Against this backdrop, though, recent empirical research into the effects of voter ID laws on turnout has returned mixed or null results.

One possible explanation for these null results is that an opponent process is taking place: While these laws may indeed keep some legitimate votes from being cast, they also may be used by the opposition to motivate some voters who might otherwise have stayed home. This project examines whether ID laws fuel counter-mobilization efforts that mask the true effects of the laws when examining turnout. We argue that the extant literature has not paid enough attention to the ways in which the enactment of such laws may propel some people to engage in behavior that would help to counteract the net decrease in turnout brought about by the laws.