Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 7 > Issue 1

Can Voter ID Laws Be Administered in a Race-Neutral Manner? Evidence from the City of Boston in 2008

Rachael V. Cobb, Department of Government, Suffolk University, USA, rcobb@suffolk.edu , D. James Greiner, Harvard Law School, USA, jgreiner@law.harvard.edu , Kevin M. Quinn, UC Berkeley School of Law, USA, kquinn@law.berkeley.edu
Suggested Citation
Rachael V. Cobb, D. James Greiner and Kevin M. Quinn (2012), "Can Voter ID Laws Be Administered in a Race-Neutral Manner? Evidence from the City of Boston in 2008", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 7: No. 1, pp 1-33. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00010098

Publication Date: 22 Mar 2012
© 2012 R. V. Cobb, D. J. Greiner and K. M. Quinn
Representation,  Electoral institutions,  Political participation


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In this article:
Theoretical Background & the Massachusetts Situation 
Voter ID Laws & Poll Workers in Boston 
Our Study: Methods and Data 
Results: Are Minorities Disproportionately Asked for Identification? 


Is it feasible in the current United States to administer voter identification laws in a race-neutral manner? We study this question using rigorous field methods and state-of-the-art statistical techniques, thus accounting for sources of uncertainty (including survey non-response and clustering) that previous studies ignore. We conduct a sensitivity analysis to account for voters who were legally required to have been asked for ID under federal and state law. We conduct an experiment with a training program that clarified proper ID law administration. Finally, we study a jurisdiction and an election in which administration of ID laws was unlikely to pose issues of racial difference, and in which (under the law) the decision to request an ID was nondiscretionary. We find strong evidence that Hispanic and black voters were asked for identification at higher rates than white voters, even after adjusting for a number of other factors. The magnitudes of the differences are significant. We explore the theoretical and legal consequences of our findings.