NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper on Wednesday urged Tennesseans to vote this election cycle following a recent report that shows states that toughened their voter identification laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not.
The press conference organized by Cooper in Nashville was held on the first day of early voting. The general election is Nov. 4.
The report by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative agency, said that as of June, 33 states have enacted laws obligating voters to show a photo ID at the polls.
Republicans who have pushed for the legislation say the requirement will reduce fraud, but Democrats insist the laws are a GOP effort to reduce Democratic turnout on Election Day.
The report compared election turnout in Kansas and Tennessee — which tightened voter ID requirements between the 2008 and 2012 elections — to voting in four states that didn’t change their identification requirements.
Specifically in Tennessee, it estimated reductions in voter turnout were from 2 percent to 3 percent steeper than they were in the other states examined. The four other states, which did not make their voter ID laws stricter, were Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, and Maine.
Cooper said the tougher voting laws are examples of “voter suppression,” and the way to fight back is to have heavy voter turnout, particularly from blacks and younger voters.
The report said that in Kansas and Tennessee, reduced voter turnout was sharper among people aged 18 to 23 than among those from 44 to 53. The drop was also more pronounced among blacks than whites, Hispanics or Asians and was greater among newly registered voters than those registered at least 20 years.
Estimated falloff among black voters was almost 2 percent larger among blacks than for whites in Tennessee, the report said.
“My hope is that the primary victims of this voter suppression effort, mainly young people and African Americans, will … retaliate by voting in larger numbers than ever,” Cooper said.
In letters included with the report, the Republican secretaries of state for Kansas and Tennessee challenged its accuracy. Kansas’ Kris Kobach said if voting data from 2012 and 2000 were compared, it would show little effect on turnout. Tennessee’s Tre Hargett said the GAO report used biased information from a “progressive data firm.”
Hargett told reporters earlier this week that in 2012 Tennessee didn’t have a competitive election, but that the four states that didn’t have stricter ID laws had hot button issues — like gambling and medical marijuana — on the ballot that drove turnout.
“Those same issues were not on the Tennessee ballot,” he said. “It just wasn’t as high profile here.”