Though it initially raised eyebrows, PolitiFact said this week that state Rep. Warren Kampf’s (R-157) suggestion that stricter voter ID laws might actually increase turnout at the polls is “mostly true.” The watchdog group’s verdict was heavily qualified, however.
, at the conclusion of a July 30 townhall meeting at Phoenixville Area High School, the first-term representative said the following in response to a question about the likely consequences of :
Georgia has a very similar law. They’ve had it for six years. And they had it in 2008 and in those communities which often are said to have been impacted by voter ID laws, the turnout was actually far greater than it should have been demographically.
The counterintuitive implication—that a law that restricts voting might actually boost turnout at the polls—got the article picked up by the Huffington Post and several other national outlets. When the story entered PolitiFact’s radar, the site’s Georgia iteration set out to investigate Kampf’s core claim: that voter turnout was higher among some historically disadvantaged groups during Georgia’s 2008 election cycle.
After talking to a representative from Kampf’s office, who backed up his candidate’s assertion by saying that the percentage of black Georgians who voted in 2008 was higher than in previous years, the fact-checking site decided to focus on black voters.
Georgia’s voter ID law—one that’s very similar to Pennsylvania’s—went into effect in 2006. The PolitiFact-checkers found that in 2004, 76 percent of black women and 66 percent of black men who registered to vote in Georgia cast ballots in that year’s presidential election while four years later an estimated 80 percent of black women and 70 percent of black men did the same. Likewise, in 2004, the site found that black voters made up 25 percent of Georgia’s electorate, while that figure ballooned to 30 percent by 2008.
Score one for Kampf.
However, PolitiFact did go on to quote a political science professor in the state who suggested that the group that is disenfranchised by voter ID laws isn't black voters, but poor black voters. PolitiFact could not find any data for that demographic.
Furthermore, the site pointed out that 2008 was special case: namely, it provided black voters the opportunity to vote for the nation’s first black president. All the political scientists the site surveyed acknowledged that this was an enormous driver of black turnout at the polls that year.
And though the site graded Kampf’s interpretation of Georgia’s 2008 election results as “mostly true,” it made no attempt to address his suggestion that Georgia’s election results have something to tell us about what will happen in Pennsylvania if its voter ID law continues to survive legal challenges. You can't, it turns out, fact check the future.