Rhetoric against voter ID law overstates effect on voter turnout

Breanne Deppisch

This is part of a weekly Point/Counterpoint series. To read the opposing viewpoint, click here.

On Tuesday afternoon, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a temporary stay to prevent changes to the state’s existing voter law, citing a lack of time for the state to train its election officials. Under current law, participants are required to show photo identification in order to vote. The practice has become subject to heightened scrutiny as November’s election approaches. Some have criticized the law as a thinly-veiled attempt to disenfranchise minority citizens. Gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis has even gone so far as to liken the policy to a Jim Crow-era poll tax. Though it can be compelling to buy into the hyperbole of political rhetoric, critics of the law are omitting crucial information in order to present a strong case and do voters a grave disservice in the process.

To present the voter ID laws as such a highly partisan issue reduces an issue of the most fundamental importance into one subject to inter-party bickering. Democratic candidates have recently taken up arms for the cause, largely to propagate their movement to “turn Texas blue.” For a losing party struggling to gain a foothold in the Texas electorate, it’s easy to call “foul play” on legislation and expect voters to follow suit. But its critics lack an alternative policy to implement when the law is hypothetically repealed, and many existing statistics contradict some of their loudest claims.

For example, Texas is not the only state to require voter ID. Our law, while admittedly the most stringent, certainly does not stand alone in its cause: Nineteen other states require photo identification in order to vote. And though much criticism has been lodged because of Texas’ racist voter history, it can be argued that the nature of the recent border crisis affords the state some additional precautions to verify citizens. 

When the high court does rule on a decision, the test will likely be one of unnecessary burden: How severe is the impact on voters? Is there a severe chance of confusion? And how late in the game is it to issue new precedent? The latter, of course, has already been addressed by the Fifth Circuit. And though the former has been muddled in a haze of deliberate histrionics, many political scientists contend that Texas’ law is indeed narrowly tailored to fit its cause. 

Whether or not the court decides to uphold Texas law, voters would do well to get their facts straight. The premise that ID laws prevent throes of minorities access to polls is misleading, and it is ultimately false. It is an argument crafted to spark resistance rather than research; and it is made largely without factual claim. A study conducted in June, after North Carolina implemented its voter ID law, illustrated that black voter turnout increased more than white voter turnout did: an increase of 29.5 percent compared to an increase of 13.7 percent. 

The reality of the situation is that many of the so-called “disenfranchised” voters exist solely because they are disengaged — they represent a percentage of the population that is unlikely to show up to the polls, overturned requirements or otherwise. Voter identification laws may well be a somewhat “slow and clunky” regulation of statewide elections, as lamented by Loyola College’s Justin Levitt. But unless the Supreme Court chooses to act otherwise, potential for reform will be found in the hands of Texans, and Texans alone. The argument, therefore, must exist beyond partisan slander and dualistic debate; and must prioritize mature discussion over detrimental mud-slinging.  Because by acting otherwise, our representatives create a system of losing — and of waves of ramification that will crash most heavily on us.

Deppisch is a government senior from League City.