More evidence of the impacts

As we move into the political season — the 2014 primaries and midterm elections — a new study shows that tougher voter ID laws continue to crop up in GOP-led states where minority and lower-income voter turnout has increased.

That's an uncomfortable truth with potentially uncomfortable consequences that should rattle anyone who cares about voting participation and fairness.

The new research asserts that the tougher laws are part of a GOP strategy aimed at keeping minority and low-income voters away from the polls, despite the fact that widespread voter impersonation is virtually nonexistent.

Research from University of Massachusetts at Boston sociologist Keith Bentele and political scientist Erin O'Brien shows a correlation between restrictive new voting laws and states where Republicans control the legislature or governor's office.

In fact, the ties are so compelling that the researchers conclude that photo identification, proof of citizenship, tighter voter registration drives, shorter early voting periods, repeal of same-day voter registration and other new voter ID laws "collectively reduce electoral access among the socially marginalized." Restricting access to the ballot box is a dangerously slippery legal slope, which is why these measures have generated several lawsuits against Texas and other states.

While not perfect, the old system in Texas was built on the proper premise that voter laws should encourage voter turnout — not discourage entire segments of would-be voters. Until the passage of a new voter photo ID law in 2011, Texans could show, among other documents, a utility bill as proof of identity allowing them to cast a ballot.

With the 2014 election cycle upon us — a season expected to be highly partisan and divisive — we're likely to hear examples of voters being turned away or having to scale a higher bar. We got a taste of it in November when former House Speaker Jim Wright briefly was denied a voter ID card at a Texas Department of Public Safety office because his Texas driver's license had expired and his university faculty ID didn't meet the requirements of the law.

The good news from last November's election is that few ID problems developed. This year — when more seats are up statewide and the stakes are higher — will be much more of a test.