But despite a disproportionate impact on Democratic-leaning groups, the electoral consequences of voter ID seem relatively marginal. […] Obama’s share of the vote in North Carolina might have dropped from 48.3 to 48 percent, expanding Romney’s margin of victory from 92,000 to about 120,000 votes. 25,000 to 30,000 votes could flip a very close election, but nothing more. In 2012, no state was so close.
I’d argue that, despite the statistically small difference voter ID laws have made so far, they’re still a matter of legitimate concern.
1) Just as a matter of Democratic principle, it’s wrong to allow Republicans to rob 25,000 to 30,000 North Carolina voters of their vote. (Ditto for other states, of course.)
2) Those 25,000 to 30,000 lost votes came in the context of a high level of concern about voter ID laws. The correct belief that Republicans are attempting to reduce Democratic voter turnout with laws that disproportionately harm Latin@, Black, elderly and poor voters caused backlash, and caused many targeted voters to be more determined to vote than they would otherwise have been. If Democrats been less concerned about the impact of voter ID laws, voter ID laws might have had a larger impact.
3) Voter ID laws are not stand-alone laws; they are part of a larger system of anti-voting laws intended to keep Blacks, Latin@s, the elderly, poor people and young people from voting. As well as voter ID laws, there’s a large variety of laws intended to make it harder to vote early, to register, or to vote at all (for instance, by reducing voting hours). The oldest anti-voting laws still on the books, felony disenfranchisement laws, may be the most damaging – and the most racist.
According to Jean Chung, author of a Sentencing Project report on felony disenfranchisement, one in every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than the rest of the adult population. And in certain states the statistics are alarmingly high: in Florida, 23 percent of Black voters are disenfranchised; in Kentucky, 22 percent; and in Virginia, 20 percent – that’s more than one in five Black adults who cannot vote.
4) Republicans have only begun attacking voting rights. After the Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in June’s Shelby v. Holder decision, Republican-controlled legislatures rushed to enact whatever voter ID laws they already had written.
In time, new and more extreme laws will inevitably be written to take advantage of the freedom Shelby has given states to reduce voting rights. And the conservatives on the Supreme Court may further reduce voting rights in future decisions. The worse damages of current voter ID laws are not the worst we’ll see.
How bad things will get depends, to some extent, on how hard Democrats fight back against these laws. Deciding not to be concerned will lead to more restrictive anti-voting laws than we’ll see otherwise.