What started with an unsubstantiated day after Election Day tweet has become a liberal article of faith: Wisconsin’s photo ID law kept hundreds of thousands of people from voting last November.
Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes.
300,000 voters were turned away by the states strict Voter ID law.
There is your "rigged" election.
— Dan Arel (@danarel) November 10, 2016
There is no evidence to support this claim. Yale University political science professor Eitan Hersh was very blunt on that point:
No offense, but this is something that is going to be shared hundreds of times and does not meet acceptable evidence standards. https://t.co/4M3ipqiaWg
— Eitan Hersh (@eitanhersh) May 9, 2017
Hersh’s estimation of how often this false narrative would be shared has proved prophetic. The latest person of note to advance it is Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andy Gronik, in a Sunday morning fundraising email:
The right to vote is a fundamental part of what it means to be an American. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law 52 years ago today because he knew that everyone deserved the right to vote.
But decades later, here in Wisconsin, far-right politicians are relentlessly denying residents a voice in government by passing restrictive ID laws, by gerrymandering districts, and by closing early voting.
Just a few months ago, The Nation published an article on how Governor Scott Walker’s enactment of voter-ID led to “a significant reduction in voter turnout in 2016, with a disproportionate impact on African-American and Democratic-leaning voters” and reduced turnout in Wisconsin by 200,000 votes (emphasis ours). Hillary Clinton lost Wisconsin by only 22,748 votes.
I guess that’s why Governor Walker says the law is working “just fine.”
Gronik’s claim is identical to one by U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin that Politifact Wisconsin declared “Mostly False.”
Baldwin says: “Voter turnout in 2016 was reduced by approx. 200,000 votes because of WI’s photo ID laws.”
A report she cites from a Democratic candidate-supporting group says a decline in voter turnout between the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections in Wisconsin was entirely due to the state’s new photo identification requirement for voting.
But experts say that while photo ID requirements reduces turnout to some extent, they question the methodology of the report and say there is no way to put a number on how many people in Wisconsin didn’t vote because of the ID requirement.
We rate Baldwin’s statement Mostly False.
Gronik’s email refers to an article in “The Nation” to support the 200,000 voters denied claim. But that article was referring to the same Priorities U.S.A.-commissioned study that Baldwin used to support her claim. Politifact Wisconsin rejected the findings of that study on several grounds:
The report compares the 2012 and 2016 elections. It says that on average, turnout increased 1.3 percent in states in which there was no change to voter ID laws, but decreased 3.3 percent in Wisconsin.
The report concludes that had there been no voter ID in Wisconsin, turnout would have risen by 1.3 percent — or 200,000 voters — over the 2012 total.
(Although it doesn’t affect the rating of Baldwin’s claim, the report also argues, based on other data, that the 200,000 people it refers to “would have been more Democratic,” and notes that Clinton lost to Trump in Wisconsin by about 20,000 votes.)
Ignoring other factors
Roughly 3 million votes were cast in each of the last three presidential elections in Wisconsin. As we’ve noted, the 2016 turnout was lower than 2012, when Obama won reelection and there was no voter ID requirement.
On the other hand, the 2016 turnout was higher than when Obama was first elected in 2008 and, again, there was no voter ID law.
More importantly, according to experts, the methodology of the report Baldwin cites is lacking. Put simply: The voter ID requirement undoubtedly prevented or discouraged some people from voting. But the report attributes all of the decrease in turnout to the ID law, when there are many other reasons that could also explain it, including a lack of enthusiasm for Clinton or Trump, or perhaps a belief that Trump couldn’t win Wisconsin.
Another political-science professor told Politifact that the article doesn’t nothing more than reinforce what liberals already believe, without providing any evidence for that belief.
“The story is getting picked up by Democrats and left-leaning smart people across social media because it confirms what they already think,” University of California, Irvine law and political science professor Rick Hasen wrote on his election law blog. “But there is reason for considerable caution about this study, which is at odds with what other studies of the effect of Wisconsin’s voter ID has found. There are questions about the study’s methodology being raised by people who know their stuff.”
Barry Burden, director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Politifact there is no way to put a number on how many people didn’t vote because of the voter ID law. Yet Gronik in his fundraiser ignores the doubts cast on the 200,000 voters denied number and reports it as fact. As Media Trackers previously reported, news outlets across the state ran an AP Wisconsin report in May under this headline:
Voter ID law proved insurmountable for many in Wisconsin
That story raised the specter of as many as 300,000 people kept from voting as a result of photo ID. Yet AP identified only four individuals within the body of the story who claimed they couldn’t vote because they didn’t have the proper ID. That article came six months after the election. Since then no media outlet in Wisconsin has identified large numbers of individual voters claiming the photo ID requirement deprived them of their vote.
Gronik’s recycling of an already discredited claim validates Hersh’s prediction that a lack of evidence won’t keep the left from perpetuating this myth.