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The State of Reform
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Download Unite America's free report analyzing the impact of four key political reforms.

Neither party will be happy with new voter ID study

Republicans and Democrats may not agree on much, but both parties are going to be equally frustrated by a new study from the widely respected National Bureau of Economic Research. The report concludes that strict voter identification laws are not doing much to depress registration or turnout overall or by any demographic group – but neither are they doing much to prevent voter fraud or increase confidence in the election system.

"Overall, our results suggest that efforts to reform voter ID laws may not have much impact on elections," authors Enrico Cantoni and Vincent Pons conclude.

Their findings create a potential stumbling block for House Democrats as they seek to make provisions easing registration and access to the polls (in the name of boosting turnout) a central selling point for their comprehensive political process overhaul bill, dubbed HR 1. But at the same time the study suggests that Republican-run states' moves to make access to the polls more bureaucratically complex (in the name of crime prevention and public credibility) are largely for naught.

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The study was based on 1.3 billion data points about the past five federal elections including people who voted, those who registered but did not vote and those who were eligible but not registered. Looking at the population's political behavior over a decade, the authors said, is what allowed them to conclude there was no discernible change in registration or voting patterns in states that stiffened voter ID requirements.

HR 1 would set new national standards for elections including automatic and same-day voter registration, the restoration of voting rights for felons, an expansion of early voting and mail-in voting, and a requirement that a sworn affidavit be an acceptable substitute for an ID card at the polls. The bill looks doomed to die in the GOP Senate after the Democratic House passes it this spring.

"No matter where you stand on the voter fraud-voter suppression controversies, these findings strengthen the case for dialing down outrage, reducing anxiety and generally recognizing that if we stopped pushing for these laws and stopped freaking out about how they supposedly doom democracy, voting in America would rattle along basically unchanged," the conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote. "But since it's conservatives and Republicans who are the prime mover here, because they're generally the ones pushing legal changes, they also have the primary obligation to step back and stand down."

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