The 90 – 10 Problem with Election Laws

One of the more interesting basic studies about election administration in recent years was done by David Kimball and his colleagues. One of the basic findings in that study was this — most voters live vote in large jurisdictions — most people live in larger jurisdictions — but most election policies are implemented by small jurisdictions — there are a ton of small counties/cities in the US who implement laws.

I bring this up because I came the article below today about the cultural issues associated with the implementation of photo identification laws. The basic idea of the law is simple; people in small towns know each other and don’t expect to be forced to show identification at the polls to people that they see every week at the grocery or at Sunday church. I have an idea that, in may rural precincts, the any law requirement like this will not be implemented consistently. I have my doubts that Mrs. Smith, the 85 year old retired school teacher and coordinator of Wednesday Tea at the church, is going to be sent home on a snowy day to get her ID by poll workers who are her former students and people who come to her Tea events. However, in urban areas, where people are less likely to know one another, there may be less of a sense of knowing and community, making these laws less culturally difficult to implement.

This discussion is something we have seen in numerous surveys. Voter identification laws are often not implemented correctly, with folks who are supposed to show identification often not doing so — which is what they are suggesting between the lines may happen here — or people who are not supposed to be asked for identification being asked.

At the same time, the story does get to something that all of us have seen in doing election observations, which is the case of the hard of hearing poll worker. I had to laugh at this point because it is something you see on occasion — poll workers asking for ID because it is easier to find people in the poll book, especially if the polling place is loud of they have trouble hearing.