WASHINGTON – At polling places in November, Latinos and African Americans under age 30 were disproportionately asked for identification, even in states that do not have voter ID laws. Overall, 17.3 percent of Black youth and 8.1 percent of Latino youth reported that the lack of required identification prevented them from voting, compared to just 4.7 percent of white youth, according to a study released today by the Black Youth Project.

Dr. Cathy Cohen, David and Mary Winton Green Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Jon C. Rogowski, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Washington University, said their study documents that voter identification laws are applied unevenly across racial groups and have significant discriminatory effects on Latino and Black youth.

Moreover, Dr. Cohen and Prof. Rogowski maintain that the results of their study underscore the importance of Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discrimination to receive pre-clearance from the Justice Department before implementing voting law changes. The Justice Department had voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas struck down, but the Voting Rights Act provision faces a challenge in the Supreme Court.

“The Voting Rights Act plays an important role in protecting the ability of people of color to participate in elections as full and equal citizens,” said Prof. Rogowski. “Our study shows that without a doubt youth of color are discriminated against at the voting booth. It doesn’t matter whether it results from conscious or unconscious bias, the result is that people of color are being disenfranchised and our nation has an obligation to put an end to it.”

Dr. Cohen maintained that the study established clear evidence that voter identification laws are applied disproportionately across racial groups.

“This is true for identification in general as well as photo ID in particular and also applies whether or not a state has identification requirements,” she said. “The uneven application of these laws suggests that polling place workers exercise a high level of discretion in requesting ID from potential voters. Unless all polling places – and all poll workers – apply voting laws in a consistent manner, the very existence of identification laws makes young people of color more likely than white youth to be asked to prove their identity.”

Specifically, the research showed that:

  • Nearly three-quarters (72.3 percent) of young Black voters were asked for some form of identification, compared with 50.8 percent of young white voters and 60.8 percent of young Latino voters.
  • Young Black (64.5 percent) and Latino (57.0 percent) voters were considerably more likely to be asked to show photo identification to vote compared to young white voters (42.2 percent).
  • Nearly two-thirds (65.5 percent) of Black youth were asked to show identification in states without ID requirements, compared with 55.3 percent of Latino youth and 42.8 percent of white youth.
  • In states with voter identification laws, higher percentages of Black youth (94.3 percent) were asked for ID compared with Latino (81.8 percent) and white (84.3 percent) youth.

Prof. Rogowski and Dr. Cohen said that unequal access to photo identification impacts voter identification laws. Black and Latino youth possess official state-issued identification at considerably lower rates than white youth. More than 85 percent of white youths have a driver’s license, compared with 71.2 percent of Black youths and 67.0 percent of Latino youths.

GfK Knowledge Networks collected data for the study between November 21 and December 5, 2012. The target population was African American, Latino and White adults between the ages of 18 and 29. Households were sampled by KnowledgePanel, a probability-based web panel. A total of 3,517 households were sampled, yielding a sample size of 1,522 respondents.

“The 2012 election was marked by a surprisingly high turnout from youths of color, but this shouldn’t turn attention away from the disproportionate and discriminatory impact of state voter identification requirements,” Dr. Cohen said. “There are many reasons why people may choose not to vote, but enacting new laws that disproportionately affect particular populations should not be among them.”