- The idea for this research projected stemmed from research I conducted during my Economics 439: Public Policy course. This research project examines the idea of Voter Identification Laws and Regulations and their effect on voter turnout and participation in the United States of America. I previously found that economists studied this topic, yet found that Voter Identification Laws and Regulations do not have a significant effect on voter turnout at the state level in the United States. Voter Identification Laws and Regulations have been a major issue of public policy during the recent years. Additionally, the United States has very low voter turnout when compared to that majority of countries in the world. Policy makers want to ensure voters are who they say they are, preventing voter fraud; however, they also want to increase voter participation. It is important that people practice their civic duty to vote and that they are involved in the public policy process. This ensures that we have a government that represents all people.
The idea that Voter Identification Laws and Regulations harm voter participation rates drives this study. People are concerned that the Voter Identification Laws and Regulations harm minority and low income voters the most compared to any other population of people. Previous studies find no effect of Voter Identification Laws and Regulations at the state level concerning total participation. This lead to the research question: Do Voter ID Laws have a significant effect on voter turnout at the county level?
For my study, I collected data at the county level for fourteen states on their voter turnout for the past four presidential election cycles: 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012. I also collected demographic information on each of the counties used in the study from the US Census. The demographic information included the gender populations in each county, the rural populations in each county, and finally the minority populations in each county. The next step was to collected data on Voter Identification Laws and Regulations. This data changed over the four years in question and gave the study variation over the years. This allows us to see how if a state implements a Voter Identification Law or Regulation how it affects the voter turnout in the various counties. The Voter Identification Laws and Regulations are additionally different in every state and so to control for the differences, I coded the laws on a 0-4 scale based on the strength on the law. A zero would represent no law in the state and a four represents a state with the strictest Voter Identification Law or Regulation. This allows us to see differences across laws as well. From the data collected, the model became:
Percent_Turnout[cst subscript]= α + βvoter_id[cst subscript] + γdemographics[cst subscript] + λyear[cst subscript] + Θcounty[cst subscript] + ε[cst subscript]
This model includes all of the Voter Identification Laws and Regulations for each of the states.
I used a computer system called STATA, which is widely used by economists to analyze data. I added my data into the system and ran regressions to test the effect of Voter Identification Laws and Regulations on voter turnout rates at the county level. What this study finds is that if a state has a Voter Identification law then the voter turnout at the county level will decrease voter turnout anywhere from eleven to fourteen percentage points. When interacting the Voter Identification laws with specific demographics in the model, I actually find less of an effect on minority populations and low-income populations. These results provide very useful and interesting information. The first piece of intriguing information is that what this study finds is different from what other economists find in their studies. Economists before found that there is little or no effect of Voter Identification Laws and Regulations on voter turnout at the state level. However, this study finds that there is a large, detrimental effect of the laws on turnout at the county level. Additionally the study finds that the effect is not specifically linked to minority populations or low-income population like many policy makers fear. The study is not clear as to whom else is effected by these laws, and that is what I hope to continue studying in the near future.
To conclude this research I presented to the students and faculty of the Economics Department on May 21, 2015 at 5 pm in Ballard Extension Hall in the third floor conference room. The presentation lasted around thirty-five minutes and included questions from the audience.