by Wendy Underhill
One of the big questions in the elections arena is, how many people who want to vote don’t have an ID? So far, the answers to this question have been partial, theoretical or politically calculated. NCSL does not have the “right” answer, either, but we can offer three distinct data points that may have value to election officials or researchers as we approach the presidential election.
In Michigan, where the photo voter ID law permits people to sign an affidavit in lieu of presenting an ID, 2,651 people did just that during the February 28 presidential primary election. That was out of 1,216,310 votes cast, or 0.22 percent. The Secretary of State collected the data on affidavits so the agency would have a clear understanding of how the affidavit is used. Michigan HB 5061, which would put a reporting requirement on the use of affidavits in statute (among other elections-related changes), has passed the House and is under consideration in the Senate.
In two states that are implementing strict photo voter ID for the first time this year, recent elections have provided a bit more data. Quoting directly from a “Data Dispatch” from the Pew Center on the States,
On February 28, nearly 27,000 Wichita, Kansas voters (of nearly 200,000 registered voters) cast ballots on a local ballot question involving whether the developers of a local hotel would get to keep part of future guest-tax income. Of these, 28 cast provisional ballots because they did not have the proper ID. Voters had several days after the election to provide ID to the county elections office in person or by mail. Of these, nine voters provided copies of the required identification, all by mail, leaving 17 ballots that had to be rejected for lack of ID.
During the March 6 Tennessee presidential primaries, more than 625,000 ballots were cast, the vast majority of which—more than 87 percent—were cast in the Republican race. These included 285 provisional ballots cast by voters who did not bring the proper photo ID to the polls. Data were not available on how many of these voters ultimately provided identification.
That is 0.1 percent in Kansas and 0.05 percent in Tennessee.
These numbers merely count people who attempted to vote but didn’t have valid ID; they do not capture potential voters without ID who knew about their state’s ID requirement--and therefore did not attempt to vote at all. Measuring those folks is a trickier job.
Two other caveats apply to these data: 1) each state has its own cultures and conditions, so what happens in Michigan, Kansas and Tennessee may not apply elsewhere, and 2) these were all small or medium-sized elections, and may not predict how people will behave in a presidential election.
Still, as some of my colleagues say, “incomplete data is better than no data.”