VTP conference: Spencer Overton on voter identification

This morning, to open the second day of the VTP conference, Spencer Overton gave an interesting talk on the need for research on voter identification requirements. Overton’s talk focused on the need for developing and undertaking a robust research agenda on the various dimensions of the voter identification debate — especially on election fraud, and on the extent to which voting-eligible citizens have government-issued photo identification (and the extent to which they actually carry them around and would bring them to a polling place).

Overton noted that much of the policy and public debate so far as relied on anecedotal evidence, and arguments by analogy. He made a strong case for moving beyond this form of argument, toward a research-based policy debate. He’s absolutely correct!

However, his talk raises a structural question for the academic and research community. Academic research, especially in the area of voting technology and election reform, is not as proactive as necessary; trying to quickly redirect a research agenda is like turning an aircraft carrier on a dime (difficult if not impossible!). A large part of the difficult here for academic researchers involves our procedures and processes for peer-review and publication, where it now can take well over a year, if you are lucky, to get a piece through peer review and into the pages of a good academic journal. There has been much discussion of how to get academic research on voting technology and election administration moving more quickly and more proactively; clearly we need some outside-the-box approaches for getting research and facts into the policy debates in a rapid — but scientific — manner.