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

Abstract
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.