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How voter ID kept minority youths from the polls in 2012

Voter ID laws had a disproportionate impact on minority youth voters last November, even in states without the restrictive laws.

Voter ID laws had a disproportionate impact on minority youth voters last November, even in states without the restrictive laws.

"The very existence of identification laws makes young people of color more likely than white youth to be asked to prove their identity," said Dr. Cathy Cohen, a researcher at the University of Chicago.

Her findings showed that young minority voters (under 30-years-old) were more likely to be asked for identification, even in states without ID requirements. Nearly two-thirds of black youth report they were asked for ID in states without voter ID laws, and a little more than half of young Latino voters reported being asked. Meanwhile only 42.8% of white youth said that they were asked for ID.

In voter ID states, the application of the law was more even, but white youth voters were asked for identification less often than African American youths (84.3% of the time for whites compared to 94.3% for African- Americans).

The findings come from a study conducted by researchers from the University of Chicago and Washington University for the Black Youth Project, which also found those voter ID laws also had a greater impact on whether or not a young person of color even tried to cast a ballot. About 1 in 6 African-American youths, and 1 in 12 Latino youths reported that the lack of required identification prevented them from voting. By comparison, fewer than 1 in 20 white youths had the same complaint.

Dr. Cohen and her fellow researcher, Jon Rogowski of Washington University, argue that these findings show that unequal access to photo identification impacts voter identification laws.  Black and Latino youth are far less likely to possess official state-issued identification than their white counterparts. More than 85% of white youths surveyed had a driver's license, while only 71% of Black youths and 67% of Latino youths did.

Researchers who led the study argue their results highlight the continued importance of Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act, which has been challenged before the Supreme Court this year.

"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,"Rogowski said. "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 agreed. "The uneven application of these laws suggests that polling place workers exercise a high level of discretion in requesting ID from potential voters."

Those findings contrast strongly with comments from Justice Antonin Scalia and Chief Justice John Roberts. Scalia argued the act was nothing more than a "racial entitlement" and Roberts seems to believe the voting rights act is outdated and recently argued that "things have changed in the South."

While there has been definitive voting rights progress since the law was first enacted in 1965, Dr. Cohen argues that these new laws are discriminating against a whole new crop of voters.

"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."