How to influence election outcomes

Voting restrictions could hurt turnout in many states

Here we are in another presidential election year. Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising to get people to vote for one candidate or another. However, outcomes can be affected before the election by state laws disenfranchising certain groups.

For example, an article in the latest AARP Bulletin shows that seven states have photo ID requirements; six other states ask for a photo ID but will allow people to vote with other forms of identification; seventeen other states require voters to show a non-photo ID; and twenty-one states do not require an ID.

The requirement for a government-issued photo ID is relatively new. Five of the seven states requiring the photo ID just recently enacted their law. Governors in five other states recently vetoed a photo ID requirement, while many other states are considering adding this requirement. The government-issued photo ID requirement could impact an estimated 21 million adult citizens who lack this form of ID according to the AARP article. Students, senior citizens, the poor, and minorities are groups that would be hit the hardest by this requirement.

The Sentencing Project addressed another way of reducing the election turnout in a 2008 report. The report estimated that five million people would be ineligible to vote in the 2008 presidential election. Of these, nearly four million resided “in the 35 states that still prohibit some combination of persons on probation, parole, and/or people who have completed their sentence from voting.” The report added that, due to racial disparities in the criminal justice system, one of every eight adult black males were ineligible to vote.

The closeness of the 2000 presidential election and Florida’s role in the outcome demonstrates the importance of this issue. Tens of thousands of citizens in Florida were kept from voting due to allegedly being former felons. Research showed that thousands of those disenfranchised were victims of a flawed computer data file, that is, they had the same name as a former felon.

Voters’ time constraints also play a role. For example, holding the election on a workday makes it more difficult for low-income workers to vote; and having an inadequate number of voting machines for voting stations in poor areas or near to campuses also limits the turnout.

Please encourage your senators to support the Democracy Restoration Act (S. 2017) that enfranchises former felons in federal elections.

– this article first appeared in the Colorado Daily

Ron Forthofer

Ron Forthofer Ph.D. is retired Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Houston, Texas; former Green Party candidate for Congress and for Governor of Colorado rforthofer@comcast.net 

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