Voter ID laws could lower youth turnout

As many as 700,000 minority voters under age 30 may be unable to cast a ballot in November because of photo ID laws in certain states, according to a new study. The lower turnout could affect several House races as well as the tight presidential contest.

"It's the first major election since these laws have been enacted and so for some states like Texas and South Carolina it was the first election where they planned to implement them," Coastal Carolina University political science professor Fredrick Wood says.

Using calculations based on turnout figures for the past two presidential elections, researchers at the University of Chicago and Washington University in St. Louis concluded that overall turnout this year by young people of color, ages 18-29, could fall by somewhere between 538,000 to 696,000 in states with photo ID laws.

The study says that 17 states have either put a strict photo ID requirement in place, request photo ID but have provisional alternatives in place for those without it, or have passed a photo ID law that has yet to take effect. Those states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

An analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school found that 11 percent of Americans lack a government-issued photo ID such as a passport, driver's license, state ID card or military ID. Nine percent of whites don't have such ID, compared with 25 percent of African-Americans and 16 percent of Hispanics, the Brennan study said.

Young minority voters, Cohen and Rogowski said, tend to be poorer and more transient, which means they are less likely to have a current address on their driver's licenses or other ID. Their licenses may be suspended or revoked due to unpaid fines, or they may not have access to the documents they need in order to get valid identification.

Even if young voters are able to pull the necessary documentation together, the extra steps they must take to get an acceptable ID might prove discouraging, Cohen said.

"They have to find the appropriate office, bring the needed paperwork and pay the required fee, all to get an ID many don't know they need," she said. "It turns out that significant numbers of young people don't even know about these new photo ID requirements."

Wood says the discussion has less to do with their age and race and everything to do with their economic status.

"The trial for South Carolina the law requires you to file an affidavit explaining why you don't have an ID, affidavits have to go through notary public, which require a fee," he adds.

The analysis by Cohen and Rogowski was released this week by the Chicago-based Black Youth Project, a nonpartisan effort launched in 2004 to examine the political participation of African-Americans aged 15 to 25. It estimated that new photo requirements potentially could turn away:

-170,000 to 475,000 young black voters.

-68,000 to 250,000 young Hispanic voters.

-13,000 to 46,000 young Asian-American voters.

-1,700 to 6,400 young Native American voters.

-700 to 2,700 young Pacific Islander voters.

Those numbers amount to a potential erosion of the gains in young minority voter participation over the two previous presidential election cycles, the analysis said.

In 2004, turnout for minority voters ages 18-24 was 44 percent for blacks, 20.4 percent for Hispanics, and 23.4 percent for Asian-Americans. In 2008, 52.3 percent of young blacks, 27.4 percent of young Latinos and 27.8 percent of young Asian-Americans turned out to vote.

"People showed up in '08 in record numbers," Browne-Dianis said. "They can do it again, they're just going to have to jump a hurdle. But it's worth it."

The AP contributed to this report.

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