By Dr. Merrill Matthews – A lot of eligible voters won’t go to the polls today. There’s a reason for that and it isn’t voter suppression.
More than half of the states now require some form of ID to vote, although only eight of them (including Texas, at least for this election) require a photo ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Critics claim that the voter ID trend is a thinly veiled effort to suppress the vote of the poor and racial minorities—those whom the same critics claim will likely vote for Democratic candidates.
For example, NAACP President Sherrilyn Ifill recently saidat a National Press Club debate that the Texas photo ID law could disenfranchise 500,000 to 800,000 Texans.
However, most of the evidence so far indicates that voter turnout actually increased after states passed voter ID laws.
But the fact is only a little more than half of voters will go to the polls in a presidential election year. And in the off-year elections, like 2014, voter participation drops significantly.
Estimates are that only about a third of voters will go to the polls for this mid-term election. According to the Pew Research Center, only 37 percent voted in 2010, the last mid-term election, and that was the highest it had been for a mid-term in more than a decade.
And while participation rates were slightly higher in the 1960s, they never broke 50 percent, and Pew says that the participation rate was only 41 percent in 1950.
In short, the biggest factor behind people not voting is apathy.
That’s not the message from the voter ID critics. Ifill leaves the impression that half a million or more Texans are clamoring to vote but will be disenfranchised because they won’t have a photo ID. The claim would be more believable if 90 percent or 95 percent of voters were clamoring to cast their ballot. But some two-thirds won’t take the time or care enough to vote.
And as Pew points out, that trend goes back decades, long before voter ID laws.
No patriotic Americans want eligible voters to be denied the right to vote, and every patriotic American should want to ensure that we prevent voter fraud. But neither of those is our biggest voter challenge; rather it’s that too many voters don’t care.
But just as eligible voters have a right to vote, they also have a right not to vote. ____________________________________________
Today’s PolicyByte was written by Dr. Merrill Matthews, resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation.