Photo ID Laws Do Not Reduce Voter Turnout

Testimony Crime and Justice

Photo ID Laws Do Not Reduce Voter Turnout

May 5, 2009 11 min read
David Muhlhausen
David Muhlhausen
Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis
David B. Muhlhausen is a veteran analyst in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for Data Analysis.

Testimony before the Committee on Elections, Texas House of Representatives on April 6, 2009


My name is David Muhlhausen. I am Senior Policy Analyst in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation. I thank Chairman Todd Smith and the rest of the committee for the opportunity to testify today. The views I express in this testimony are my own and should not be construed as representing any official position of The Heritage Foundation.

Voter ID Laws Pass Constitutional Muster

On April 28, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court's Crawford v. Marion County Election Board decision ruled that on its face Indiana's photo-ID law did not pose an unconstitutional burden on voters.[1]Associate Justice John Paul Stevens concluded that a state may put into effect "even handed restrictions" to protect the "integrity and reliability of the electoral process itself."[2] For those without valid photo documentation, the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) offers a free photo identification card that can be used for voting. Associate Justice Stevens's ruling opinion noted that "For most voters who need them, the inconvenience of making a trip to the BMV, gathering the required documents, and posing for a photograph surely does not qualify as a substantial burden on the right to vote, or even represent a significant increase over the usual burdens of voting."[3]

Americans Support Voter ID Laws

While opponents of voter ID laws have been very vocal in their opposition, opinion polls consistently demonstrate that the American public overwhelmingly supports these laws. A January 2008 Rasmussen Reports survey found that 80 percent of voters approve of photo identification requirements, while only 13 percent disapproved.[4] Another 2008 survey reported that 67 percent of Americans favor voter ID laws.[5] In addition, 69 percent of whites, 58 percent of African-Americans, and 66 percent of other ethnic minorities support voter ID laws.

In a 2006 survey, Professor Stephen Ansolabehere of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 77 percent of respondents supported voter identification requirements.[6] For the most part, the majority of respondents supported such laws regardless of race, location (Northeast, Midwest, etc.), and political ideology. While those who identified themselves as conservatives had the highest percentage of agreement with identification requirements (at 95 percent), even those who identified themselves as "very liberal" had 50 percent agreement with voter identification laws. Regarding race, more than 70 percent of whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics supported voter identification laws.

The Overstated Burden of Obtaining Voter Photo IDs

Opponents of voter ID laws exaggerate the burden of obtaining the appropriate identification. The Help America Vote Act (HAVA), passed by the U.S. Congress in 2002, requires all first-time voters who registered to vote by mail to provide valid photo identification or other documentation at the polls. For those voters without proper identification, HAVA requires the states to accept provisional ballots. In all states that have adopted photo ID laws, ample means have been provided for individuals to obtain valid IDs in time to vote.

An American University survey of registered voters in Indiana, Maryland, and Mississippi found that only 1.2 percent of respondents lacked a government-issued photo ID.[7] For the individual states:

  • 0.3 percent with no photo ID in Indiana;
  • 1.9 percent with no photo ID in Maryland; and
  • 1.3 percent with no photo ID in Mississippi.[8]

Further, less than 0.5 percent of the respondents had neither a photo ID nor citizenship documentation (for example, birth certificate, passport, or naturalization papers).[9]

The Alleged Suppressive Effect of Voter ID Laws on Voter Turnout

Despite the popularity of voter ID laws, some claim that such laws will disenfranchise voters.[10] A statistical analysis of the effect of voter identification requirements on voter turnout during the 2004 election by Professor Timothy Vercellotti of the Eagleton Institute found that more stringent voter identification requirements appeared to reduce voter turnout.[11] Hereinafter, this study will be referred to as the "Eagleton Institute study." In the media, the Eagleton Institute study has been cited as demonstrating that the strengthening of voter identification requirements to reduce fraud suppresses minority voter turnout.[12] Despite the findings of the Eagleton Institute study, new studies indicate that voter ID laws do not suppress voter turnout.

Heritage Foundation Research. A reanalysis of the individual-level data used in the Eagleton Institute study I coauthored with Keri Weber Sikich was published by the Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis in September 2007.[13] My report suggests that caution is needed in interpreting the Eagleton Institute's findings for at least three reasons.

First, their study used one-tailed significance tests instead of the more commonly accepted two-tailed tests. The one-tailed test allows researchers to double their chances of finding statistically significant results.

Second, the voter identification laws for two states, Arizona and Illinois, were incorrectly classified. From our modeling, this misclassification leads to a negative and statistically significant relationship between photo identification requirements and voter turnout for all registered voters. When Arizona and Illinois are correctly classified, the relationship in our modeling is statistically indistinguishable from zero.

Third, the findings for photo identification requirements are sensitive to model specification. Using the Eagleton Institute's state voter identification classifications and controlling for marriage with a married or not dichotomous variable, our analysis of overall voter turnout finds that photo identification requirements have a negative and statistically significant relationship with overall voter turnout. However, when additional marital status variables--widowed, divorced, separated--are included, the statistically significant relationship for photo identification requirements disappears.

After addressing these issues, our reanalysis finds that some of the original findings of the Eagleton Institute study are unfounded. Controlling for factors that influence voter turnout, voter identification laws largely do not have the negative impact on voter turnout that the Eagleton Institute suggests. When statistically significant and negative relationships are found, the effects are so small that the findings offer little policy significance. For example, our analysis indicates that:

  • White survey respondents in photo identification states are 0.002 percent less likely to report voting than white respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • African-American respondents in non-photo identification states are 0.012 percent less likely to report voting than African-American respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.

In other cases, no effect was found.

  • In general, respondents in photo identification and non-photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • African-American respondents in photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to African-American respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.
  • Hispanic respondents in photo identification states are just as likely to report voting compared to Hispanic respondents from states that only required voters to state their name.

The findings of the Heritage analysis suggest that voter identification requirements, such as requiring non-photo and photo identification, have virtually no suppressive effect on reported voter turnout.

Additional Research. Additional research strongly suggests that voter ID laws do not suppress voter turnout. Using Indiana county-level data for the 2002 and 2006 elections, Professor Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri performed a rigorous analysis of the impact of Indiana's photo ID law.[14] Professor Milyo analyzed the change in voter turnout in Indiana counties before and after the implementation of the state's photo ID law. Overall, statewide turnout increased by 2 percentage points. The law had no effect on turnout in counties with higher concentrations of minorities, poor, elderly, or less educated. Further, turnout increased in counties with greater percentages of Democrats than other counties.

A 2009 study by Professor Jason D. Mycoff of the University of Delaware and his colleagues used state-level and individual data to analyze national voter turnout in four elections from 2000 to 2006.[15] Their study is rigorous because they examine the effect of voter ID laws on voter turnout over four elections and control for the political interests of voters. Political interest is considered one of the best predictors of voter turnout.[16] They postulate that "once the motivation to participate is held constant there is little theoretical reason to believe voter-ID laws would dampen one's desire to vote."[17] They found that "voter identification laws do not affect voter turnout."[18]


Americans support voter ID laws for good reasons. First, there is little evidence to suggest that these laws disenfranchise voters. Second, voter ID laws are a common sense policy to help ensure the integrity of elections.

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Members of The Heritage Foundation staff testify as individuals discussing their own independent research. The views expressed are their own and do not reflect an institutional position for The Heritage Foundation or its board of trustees.



[1]Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S.____ (2008) [U.S. Supreme Court].

[2]Ibid., p 1.

[3]Ibid., p. 15.

[4]Rasmussen Reports, "80% Believe Voters Should Be Required to Show Photo ID," January 10, 2008, at
 (March 30, 2009).

[5]Stephen Dinan, "Voter ID Rule Finds Support," The Washington Times, January 22, 2008, at
 (January 28, 2008).

[6]Stephen Ansolabehere, "Access Versus Integrity in Voter Identification Requirements," Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, February 2007, at
(July 24, 2007).

[7]Robert Pastor, Robert Santos, Alison Prevost, and Vassia Gueorguieva, "Voter Ids Are Not the Problem: A Survey of Three States," Center for Democracy and Election Management, American University, January 9, 2008, p. 8, at /static/reportimages/FEFEE341CE78CF3A2CE627511618F60B.pdf(March 30, 2009).

[8]Ibid., p. 9.


[10]Cynthia Tucker, "Voter ID Law an Ugly Effort to Subvert Ballot," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, January 13, 2008, at
 (January, 29, 2008).

[11]Timothy Vercellotti, "Appendix C: Analysis of Effects of Voter ID Requirements on Turnout," in Report to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Best Practices to Improve Voter Identification Requirements Pursuant to the Help America Vote Act of 2002, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Moritz College of Law, Ohio State University, June 28, 2006; and Timothy Vercellotti and David Anderson, "Protecting the Franchise, or Restricting It? The Effects of Voter Identification Requirements on Turnout," American Political Science Association conference paper, Philadelphia, Pa., August 31-September 3, 2006.

[12]Christopher Drew, "Lower Voter Turnout Is Seen in State that Require ID," The New York Times, February 21, 2007, p. A16; Richard Wolf, "Study: Stricter Voting ID Rules Hurt '04 Turnout," USA Today, February 19, 2007, p. A5; Matthew Murray, "EAC Blasted Again for Burying Study," Roll Call, April 9, 2007; Tom Baxter and Jim Galloway, "Wonk Alert: Study Says the Heavier the Voter ID Requirements, the Lower the Turnout," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 21, 2007, Metro News.

[13]David B. Muhlhausen and Keri Weber Sikich, "New Analysis Shows Voter Identification Laws Do Not Reduce Turnout," Heritage Foundation Center for Data Analysis Report No. CDA07-04, September 11, 2007, at

[14]Jeffrey Milyo, "The Effects of Photographic Identification on Voter Turnout in Indiana: A County Level Analysis," Institute of Public Policy Report 10-2007, University of Missouri, November 10, 2007, at /static/reportimages/6F9D5549A84773C6BD492801AD5817E8.pdf (January 29, 2008).

[15]Jason D. Mycoff, Michael W. Wagner, and David C. Wilson, "The Empirical Effects of Voter-ID Laws: Present or Absent," PS: Political Science & Politics, 42 (2009), pp, 121-126. An earlier version of this paper appeared as Jason D. Mycoff, Michael W. Wagnor, and David C. Wilson, "Do Voter Identification Laws Affect Voter Turnout?" Working Paper, Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of Delaware, 2007.

[16]Henry E. Brady, Sidney Verba, and Kay Lehman Schlozman, "Beyond SES: A Resource Model of Political Participation," The American Political Science Review, Vol. 89, No. 2 (June 1995), pp. 271-294.

[17]Mycoff et al., "The Empirical Effects of Voter-ID Laws: Present or Absent," p. 124.

[18] Ibid., p. 121.


David Muhlhausen
David Muhlhausen

Research Fellow in Empirical Policy Analysis