Senior Josh Hochberg publishes paper on voter ID laws in USF Law Review

The Tufts Daily

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Senior Josh Hochberg is pictured on Feb. 16.Quan Tran / The Tufts Daily

By Rohith Raman

Senior Josh Hochberg published a paper on voter ID laws in the University of San Francisco Law Review in January and received widespread attention on campus and beyond.

Hochberg aimed to investigate how voter ID laws affect voter turnout and possession of IDs. 

“On the one hand, you have surveys that show that voters of color or registered voters of color are less likely to have a voter ID than white voters,” Hochberg said. “Voter ID laws are basically discriminatory in that bucket, but you have this whole separate body of literature that says, actually, there is no real effect on voter turnout.”

In the paper, Hochberg concluded that there is a statistically significant racial gap between those who do and those who do not have voter IDs. This gap, however, is much smaller than many previously thought. Hochberg explained these findings.

“The first [reason] is that people are often confused about what counts as voter ID,” Hochberg said. “The second is that a lot of people who are registered voters don’t have ID, but they’re not voting anyway … There is a gap in possession rates [of voter IDs] between registered voters who are Black and Hispanic versus those who are white, but it’s not nearly as large as the survey research makes it out to be.”

Hochberg discussed how his interest in election law led him to begin an independent research study with Eitan Hersh, associate professor of political science.

“Election law is always something I have had this weird interest in,” Hochberg explained. “Eighteen months ago, I started an independent study with Eitan Hersh that was a semester-long independent study, and part of it was looking at what these expert reports say about voter ID laws, because these are reports that match registered voters to state and federal ID databases that surprisingly, nobody talks about.”

“To better understand the extent to which voter ID laws disproportionately burden voters of color, [I] analyzed expert reports produced during election law litigation that match voter registration records to state and federal ID databases,” Hochberg wrote in an electronic message to the Daily.

Hersh highlighted the documents because they offered a degree of accuracy not found in more traditional sources of data, like surveys.

Hochberg revealed the challenges of finding relevant research documents for his study.

“I knew these [reports] existed — the problem was finding them,” Hochberg said. “The issue is that you have to pay for those documents and those documents aren’t clearly labeled … so a lot of what I was doing was going through these documents, downloading them, paying for them and then seeing,  ‘Is this actually what I’m looking for?’ … This process took quite a while.”

Hochberg said he examined technical reports to understand how they matched lists of registered voters to state DMV records, federal passport records and other federal identification documents.

Despite the tedium, the work yielded important results. Brian Schaffner, Newhouse professor of civic studies, spoke to the effectiveness of Hochberg’s research method. 

“The paper is quite clever,” Schaffner said. “One thing that a lot of political scientists do as a side gig is to serve as expert witnesses in cases related to voting rights or redistricting or things like that … They basically write reports based on data analysis of the data that are related to the case … So, essentially what [Hochberg] has done is get these expert witness reports and look at what those reports found.”

The paper has garnered praise outside of the Tufts community as well. Jonathan Robinson, director of research at Catalist, posted his thoughts on Twitter. 

“This paper is a short but mighty undertaking by an undergrad (!!),” Robinson wrote. “Many are aware that there have been court cases & expert testimony on election administration policies like voter ID but few know about the data that lives in those reports from academics & litigation consultants.”

Hochberg discussed two competing theories about the potential impact of voter ID laws on turnout for the upcoming November elections.

“It could be that in these states [that have adopted stricter voter ID laws], that there is going to be a dip that will depress turnout to some extent. It’s very possible that because voters of color are less likely to have that ID, it’ll disproportionately suppress minority turnout.” Hochberg said.

“Option two is that there’s a much smaller body of literature that says that voter ID laws have this mobilizing effect for voters of color … [where] there’s this countermobilization effort to negate the effects of voter ID law. … It’s really difficult to say what’s going to happen … I just think it would be really interesting looking at a state-by-state basis for the upcoming elections.”

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