The Determinants of State Legislator Support for Restrictive Voter ID Laws
William D. Hicks, Appalachian State University
Seth C. McKee, Texas Tech University
Daniel A. Smith, University of Florida
Forthcoming, State Politics and Policy Quarterly
We examine state legislator behavior at the passage stage of voting on restrictive voter identification (ID) bills from 2005 to 2013. Partisan polarization of state lawmakers on voter ID laws is well known but we know very little with respect to other determinants driving this political division. With rare exceptions, a major shortcoming of extant research evaluating the passage of voter ID bills stems from using the state legislature as the unit of analysis. We depart from existing scholarship by using the state legislator as our primary unit of analysis and we cover the entirety of the period when restrictive voter ID laws became a frequent agenda item in state legislatures, from the first passage of a strict photo ID bill in 2005 to the latest measures passed in 2013. Beyond the obviously significant effect of party affiliation, we find that there exists a notable relationship between the racial composition a member’s district, region, and electoral competition, and the likelihood that a state lawmaker supports a voter ID bill. Democratic lawmakers representing substantial black district populations are more opposed to restrictive voter ID laws, whereas Republican legislators with substantial black district populations are more supportive. Controlling for party, we find southern lawmakers (particularly Democrats) to be more opposed to restrictive voter ID legislation. Further, all else equal, we find black legislators in the South to be the least supportive of restrictive voter ID bills, which is likely tied to the historical context associated with state laws restricting electoral participation. Finally, in those state legislatures where electoral competition is not intense, partisan polarization over voter ID laws is less stark, which likely reflects the expectation that the reform will have little bearing on the outcome of state legislative contests.
In light of several news articles that have reported the findings of a recent joint NCSL & PEW Report, “Who We Elect: The Demographics of State Legislatures,” I thought it might be useful to convey some points made by Dr. Carl Klarner regarding the inherent problem when comparing “average” state legislative racial and ethnic (and other socio-demographic data) with national averages. As Klarner writes in his recent Report (p6),
“state level figures [should] always [be] weighted by state population when being averaged to the nation level. This is done to approximate the importance of a particular state legislative chamber….
The issue of weighting by population is especially relevant to assessing minority representation, as it makes a big difference. Reports of minority state legislators frequently state them as a percentage of all legislators in the country.17 It is also sometimes asserted that descriptive representation is lower in state legislatures than in the U.S. House. But it is important to take the varying size of state legislative districts into account. For example, there are currently 498 African-American state house members, or 9.2% of the 5,411 state house members in the United States. But African-American state house members actually represent 11.9% of the United States, if you factor in the size of the districts they represent. This is substantially closer to the 13.7% of the United States that is African-American.18 The simple reason for this is that Northeastern states, with unusually large state houses, have few African-Americans living in them. Looking at minority descriptive representation in this way gives us more insight into what types of electoral arrangements are conducive to the fair representation of racial minorities.”
I agree with Dr. Klarner. Weighting state legislators by population is essential when comparing national averages with minority representation across the 99 state legislative chambers.
According to the 2010-2014 5-year averages of the American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census, African-Americans make up approximately 13.7% of the national population, Hispanics 16.9%, and Asians 5.9%.
According to Dr. Klarner, here are the percentages of current state legislators who are racial/ethnic minorities, unweighted v. weighted:
Dr. Carl Klarner has posted “Assessing the Potential Impact of Evenwel v. Abbott” on SSRN. I look forward to contributing more to this important preliminary analysis of the representational impact of the Evenwel v. Abbottcase that SCOTUS hears tomorrow morning, weighing the “one-person, one-vote” principle under the Equal Protection Clause. Klarner’s analysis shows the potential impact on representation when instead of total population, districts are apportioned based on the number of citizens who live in state and congressional legislative jurisdictions, or, even more narrowly, when districts are apportioned based only on the number of citizens over the age of 18 (CVAP). His empirical analysis goes beyond recent analyses conducted by Michael Li & Eric Petry at the Brennan Center and by Andrew A. Beveridge, Professor of Sociology at Queens College. In this iteration, Klarner “assesses the potential impact of such a ruling on the political power of African-Americans, Latinos, individuals residing in poverty, as well as the extent of the electoral advantages a ruling might provide to the Republican Party.” The findings are stark.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Evenwel v. Abbott on December 8, 2015. If the high Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, redistricting across the country will be accomplished by nearly equalizing the number of people eligible to vote in a jurisdiction instead of the current standard of nearly equalizing the total population of legislative districts. This analysis assesses the potential impact of such a ruling on the political power of African-Americans, Latinos, individuals residing in poverty, as well as the extent of the electoral advantages a ruling might provide to the Republican Party. It draws on Census data first available on December 3, 2015 and a database of all state legislative elections from 1968 to 2015. It finds that drawing districts on the basis of citizens of voting age would reduce the power of Democratic state legislators by 1.4% in state houses, 1.2% in state senates, and 1.1% in the U.S. House. The representation of Latino state house members would go from 8.4 to 7.4%, 6.7 to 5.8% in state senates, and 6.7 to 5.8% for the U.S. House as well.