Pa. voters weren’t required to show photo ID at the polls in November, but the AFL-CIO says confusion over the law discouraged thousands of people from coming to the polls.
“We have said all along that this law had nothing to do with preventing fraud,” said Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale. “This law was always meant to confuse and intimidate legitimate voters, for the political advantage of the party who advocated for ID requirements. This analysis proves that even before being implemented, this law did exactly what its architects intended.”
The Pennsylvania labor union conducted an analysis of voters, comparing pre-election turnout predictions with actual voter turnout.
Analysts looked at turnout figures for roughly 758,000 registered voters that the state government determined in July 2012 may not have possessed the necessary photo ID to comply with the new law. The state came up with the names by cross-referencing registered voters with databases of those who have official ID (i.e. a drivers license).*
Then the Pa. AFL-CIO looked at the roughly 6.2 million voters who the state confirmed already had the necessary ID. They found a significant dropoff between the two groups.
The union concluded that between 35,239 and 36,613 voters who normally would have voted instead opted to stay home.
“Among voters disenfranchised in 2012, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by more than 2.5 to one,” the analysis continued.
In order to avoid skewed results, the analysis subdivided the electorate and made apples-to-apples comparisons based on each voter’s likelihood of turning out to vote. The analysis used propensity scores that were determined prior to election day. A score of 0 meant an individual was unlikely to vote at all. A score of 100 meant an individual was certain to make it to the polls.
The Pa. AFL-CIO relied on voter propensity scores from Catalist, a reputable data analysis firm that caters to Democratic and labor union clients – including President Obama’s campaign. Catalist uses public information like vote history and demographics to determine the likelihood that each individual voter will come to the polls. The calculations of likely individual voter turnout were conducted prior to the election and independently of the AFL-CIO study.
For example, the analysis looked at individuals with a vote propensity score of 10 or less and who were confirmed as having ID. They turned out at a rate of 10.3%. Next, the Pa. AFL-CIO looked at individuals with a vote propensity score of 10 or less who were on the state list of people who might lack necessary ID. They turned out at a rate of 5.5%.
Numerically, the biggest gap came between individuals who were given a vote propensity score of 40 to 49. Of that group, 36% of those confirmed to have ID came out to vote, compared to just 18.8% among those who the state said might lack ID.
Among voters with a propensity score of 90-100, the dropoff was minimal (95.8% turnout by those confirmed to have ID, 94.4% by those who might have been without ID).
The detailed analysis is here.
At PoliticsPA’s request, the Pa. AFL-CIO also provided a geographic breakdown. While Philadelphia accounted for more of the dropoff than any anywhere else, most came from Pennsylvania’s 66 other counties. Centre and Union counties were similar to Philadelphia in their rates of dropoff as a percentage of total votes. Allegheny, Columbia, Delaware and Lawrence counties also saw significant dropoff.
The new ID requirement was signed into law in March 2012 primarily with Republican support. Proponents said the measure would deter voter fraud, although no cases of in-person voter fraud have been reported in Pa.
The state began an ad campaign informing the public would need to show ID to vote, including television ads and mail pieces. Drivers licenses, military IDs, some college IDs and other forms of ID were to be accepted.
But a state judge delayed the ID requirement in October, saying it wouldn’t be in effect for the November election. The state did not advertise the fact that the requirement had been suspended – although some Democratic campaigns did. Those campaigns sought to rally supporters in opposition to the law, characterizing it as an effort to disenfranchise Democratic constituencies.
The law returned to court this month and the Pa. AFL-CIO, along with a number of other liberal groups, are actively campaigning for it to be thrown out.
Nils Hagen-Frederiksen says the Pa. AFL-CIO’s analysis is more about the court case than genuine study. He is the Press Secretary at the Governor’s Office of General Counsel and the administration’s primary spokesman on the voter ID issue.
“There is nothing ‘factual’ about this,” Hagen-Frederiksen said. “This is a play for public opinion.”
He pointed to several limitations of the study, including the fact that it is not known definitively which of the roughly 758,000 voters identified by the state actually lacked ID.*
Voters who didn’t have an individual voter propensity score from Catalist were not included in the analysis.
“It’s all based on a hypothetical, with no connection in any way to voter ID other than their speculation,” Hagen-Frederiksen continued.
“We are focused on the evidence and the law regarding Voter ID which is being debated inside the courtroom, under oath, not via press releases that are based on statistical speculation.”
Dr. Chris Borick is Director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion and Terry Madonna is the Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College. Both said the Pa. AFL-CIO’s methodology appears to be good.
But Borick noted that it’s impossible to say for sure without knowing exactly how Catalist determines individual vote propensity.
“I looked over the AFL-CIO methodology and overall it looks fairly solid,” Borick said. “However the lack of specificity for their measure of propensity to vote makes it hard to evaluate the measures they employ.”
“The changes that they claim across groups look reasonable but ultimately the way that they calculate their propensity measure could affect those results.”
The results need to be divided by vote propensity because a simple comparison of the ‘had ID’ group to the ‘may not have had ID’ group may be misleading. For example, a 20-year-old college student from out-of-state is less likely to have Pa. ID. But his demographics indicate he is less likely to turn out to vote regardless of his ID status.
“I wouldn’t doubt that [Catalist] has a pretty refined measure that they use but ultimately it has to be transparent for a full evaluation,” Borick said.
Update: Another professor weighed in on the Pa. AFL-CIO’s analysis; and Catalist defended its vote propensity algorithm, which is declined to make public.
Dr. Rolfe Daus Peterson is the Associate Director of the Mercyhurst Center for Applied Politics. He said the Pa. AFL-CIO’s analysis was solid.
“They are using inferential statistics in an appropriate way in the discussion/summary. The 99% level of confidence is actually more rigorous than many social science studies use,” he wrote to PoliticsPA. “I think they are being cautious in their estimate (the real number could be higher).”
Here is Catalist’s statement:
“The Catalist 2012 National Vote Propensity Model predicts likelihood of voting in the 2012 election for all 180+ million registered voters in the Catalist national database. The model is informed primarily by vote history, and is augmented by factors like income, race, voter registration history, and consumer data. Catalist has been producing these types of vote propensity models over multiple election cycles, and they have been shown to be exceptionally accurate year after year.”
*The state’s list of people who might lack ID was not perfect. It was shown that it didn’t always account for people who used different names (eg. Mrs. Smith used ‘Margaret’ as her first name on her drivers license, but she registered to vote as ‘Peg’).