Thursday, August 1, 2013

Statistics and Pennsylvania's Voter ID Law

Prior to the 2012 presidential election, Pennsylvania attempted to enact one of the toughest voter ID laws in the nation. This law has been kicked up to the courts to examine its legality. One reason that so many people protested the law was because it would make it more difficult for the elderly and the poor to vote (as it would be more difficult for them to obtain the ID required). Here is an NPR story that gives a bit of background on the law and the case in court.  Also, for giggles and grins, here is Jon Stewart's more amusing explanation of the law and why it was struck down prior to the election, including video footage of a PA legislature flat-out stating that the Voter ID law would allow Romney to win the 2012 election.

In order to support/raise questions about the impact of the law on the ability to vote, statisticians have been brought in on both sides in order to estimate exactly how disenfranchising this law will be.

Essentially, the debate in court centers around an analysis performed by Dr. Bernard Siskin. His analysis found that 11,000 of PA's 8.2 million voters lacked the proper ID required to vote. The state argues that this number is inflated and that Dr. Siskin's research methods did not take into account the variety of different kinds of valid IDs that will be reasonable IDs.

More on the court case available below:

I think this could be useful in demonstrating a) statistics being used in court in order to persuade people about a big, important social justice issues, b) statisticians having jobs that don't involve non-stop number crunching, c) statistics in the news, and d) the experts here are arguing about research methods, thus reinforcing to your students that the problems that most people have with statistics don't have to to with the math, but the methods.