No, Voter ID Laws Didn't Cost Clinton The Election Either

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 30, 2016 9:15 PM
No, Voter ID Laws Didn't Cost Clinton The Election Either

After the Christmas holiday, outgoing Labor Secretary and 2016 Democratic National Committee chairman candidate Tom Perez said that the party needed to have a full-time staff dedicated to combating voter suppression (via The Hill):

Labor Secretary Tom Perez is calling for the Democratic Party to dedicate full-time staff to combating voter suppression as part of his pitch to lead the party out of the ashes of 2016.

Accusing the GOP of looking to prevent Americans from voting, the former Justice Department lawyer argued that his party needs to fight back.

"With GOP attempts to disenfranchise voters, [without] full protections of the [Voting Rights Act], we need an aggressive [Democratic National Committee] effort that'll fight voter suppression. This means there needs to be a fully-funded team of legal experts fully integrated with states, organizing and digital teams.”

Are we blaming that for Clinton’s election loss too? Well, certainly this is red meat for the progressive left to rally around and support as they nurse their wounds over their loss to Donald Trump last month. Yet, it’s a waste of time. For starters, voter ID laws are very popular, even among nonwhites. In fact, it’s one of the most popular policy initiatives out there, garnering 80 percent support with voters. Richard Hasen wrote in the liberal Talking Points Memo last month how the Left shouldn’t get all wrapped up blaming voter suppression for killing Clinton’s presidential hopes:

There is thus far not enough evidence (as I’ve shown in this post) that these laws actually affected the outcome of the presidential election. We have statistics on a fewer number of polls open or early voting days in some of these states, and we know courts have found in some cases that up to hundreds of thousands of voters lacked the right kind of ID to vote in some strict voter id states. But it is a big empirical leap to claim that these cutbacks caused the losses for Democrats in states that mattered for the outcome of the electoral college. Lots of people who lacked id could have gotten it and voted. (A more plausible case could be made in some of these states that these laws mattered in races which are very, very close.)

More importantly, even in states that had eased their voting and registration rules in recent years, such as Minnesota, Democratic turnout was way down. This is key: Hilllary Clinton is down millions of Democrats' votes (right now about 7 million votes) compared to Obama in 2012. People stayed home for reasons unrelated to voter suppression.

[…]

Blaming voter suppression in this election will be just as effective as the increasing calls on social media for Republican electors to not vote for Donald Trump when the Electoral College votes. It’s not going to help, and ignores the larger problems facing the party and the nation that the party, and those on the left, need to face.

Now, Philip Bump at The Washington Post says that the Trump campaign allegedly wanted to keep blacks from turning out to vote. He then detailed how the immensely popular voter ID laws could be the cause of this:

We'd be remiss, though, if we didn't note that a number of states, including Wisconsin and several in the Deep South, implemented new voter ID requirements for the 2016 election. Voter ID laws often have the (not-always-unintended) effect of making it harder for poor people and people of color to vote. 2016 was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court voided part of the Voting Rights Act, a law intended to protect voting rights particularly for historically disenfranchised voters like black Southerners.

The 2016 election was close enough that any number of things could have flipped the result. Slightly higher turnout from black voters in the three key states is certainly one. But turnout was down, and Trump won. It may be unusual for a politician to openly celebrate low turnout — but in this case, it's certainly clear why Trump is enthusiastic about it.

Well, let’s get back to reality for a second here because it’s not like the Deep South is ever going to go Republican any time soon. Let’s look at the three states that sunk Clinton: Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Hasen noted that a) only Wisconsin has voter ID laws, where Clinton received 15 percent fewer votes than Obama. Trump won that state by less than 23,000 votes (27,000 by some other outlets). Clinton received 239,000 fewer votes than Trump. In Milwaukee, Clinton received 43,000 fewer votes than Obama, which could have made the difference. So, it’s voter ID, right? No—not really.

In fact, there were many in Milwaukee that simply didn’t vote and don’t regret it, according to The New York Times. While there was no love for Trump in these neighborhoods, Clinton was viewed as equally terrible who wouldn’t do much to help their economic situation. As a result, why even bother voting?

Wisconsin, a state that Hillary Clinton had assumed she would win, historically boasts one of the nation’s highest rates of voter participation; this year’s 68.3 percent turnout was the fifth best among the 50 states. But by local standards, it was a disappointment, the lowest turnout in 16 years. And those no-shows were important. Mr. Trump won the state by just 27,000 voters.

Milwaukee’s lowest-income neighborhoods offer one explanation for the turnout figures. Of the city’s 15 council districts, the decline in turnout from 2012 to 2016 in the five poorest was consistently much greater than the drop seen in more prosperous areas — accounting for half of the overall decline in turnout citywide.

The biggest drop was here in District 15, a stretch of fading wooden homes, sandwich shops and fast-food restaurants that is 84 percent black. In this district, voter turnout declined by 19.5 percent from 2012 figures, according to Neil Albrecht, executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission. It is home to some of Milwaukee’s poorest residents and, according to a 2016 documentary, “Milwaukee 53206,” has one of the nation’s highest per-capita incarceration rates.

At Upper Cutz, a bustling barbershop in a green-trimmed wooden house, talk of politics inevitably comes back to one man: Barack Obama. Mr. Obama’s elections infused many here with a feeling of connection to national politics they had never before experienced. But their lives have not gotten appreciably better, and sourness has set in.

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All four barbers had voted for Mr. Obama. But only two could muster the enthusiasm to vote this time. And even then, it was a sort of protest. One wrote in Mrs. Clinton’s Democratic opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The other wrote in himself.

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“I felt cornered,” said Ian Pfeiffer, 25, who works the grill at Jake’s Delicatessen and says he did not vote. “We were stuck between Trump and Hillary. They really left us with no choice.”

In Pennsylvania, can’t really blame a decrease in voter turnout in Philadelphia for Clinton’s loss, as noted by The Cook Report’s David Wasserman.

And Michigan was the same story of Clinton not being able to get people psyched for her; Trump won the state by less than 11,000 votes. In Wayne County, which includes Detroit, Obama got 595,253 votes. Clinton just got 517,842—77,411 fewer than the president in 2012.

So, again, it appears like voter turnout was down because voters didn’t like Clinton. They didn’t like Donald Trump either, but this is entirely Clinton’s fault. Her inability to energize the Obama coalition, along with her decision to straight up ignore millions of white working class voters, probably cost her the election. So, it wasn’t voter suppression. It wasn’t voter ID laws. Michigan and Pennsylvania don’t have such laws, so what else could explain by 77,000+ voters in a heavily Democratic county in Michigan? Maybe it was Hillary Clinton was just an awful candidate who no one trusted.

Oh, what about Florida. Well, Trump won that state outright. Clinton got 248,000 more votes than Obama who won the state in 2012, but Trump won 442,000 more votes than Romney, which pushed him over the top.

It all comes down to candidates. And while Trump certainly had his flaws, he wasn’t hamstrung with an FBI criminal investigation stemming from an email system that possibly put our national security in jeopardy. In the end, the Clinton campaign thought they could have record turnout like Obama. What they learned is that Obama was good for Obama, not for Democrats trying to succeed him. Clinton just couldn’t get people excited for her. Period. That’s not the fault of voter ID laws.