The Effect of Voter Identification Laws on Turnout
Working Paper No.:  57
Date Published:  2008-11-30


R. Michael Alvarez, California Institute of Technology

Delia Bailey, Washington University in St. Louis

Jonathan N. Katz, California Institute of Technology


Since the passage of the “Help America Vote Act” in 2002, nearly half of the states have adopted a variety of new identification requirements for voter registration and participation by the 2006 general election. There has been little analysis of whether these requirements reduce voter participation, especially among certain classes of voters. In this paper we document the effect of voter identification requirements on registered voters as they were imposed in states in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, and in the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections. Looking first at trends in the aggregate data, we find no evidence that voter identification requirements reduce participation. Using individual-level data from the Current Population Survey across these elections, however, we find that the strictest forms of voter identification requirements — combination requirements of presenting an identification card and positively matching one’s signature with a signature either on file or on the identification card, as well as requirements to show picture identification — have a negative impact on the participation of registered voters relative to the weakest requirement, stating one’s name. We also find evidence that the stricter voter identification requirements depress turnout to a greater extent for less educated and lower income populations, but no racial differences.


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