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Comparing Voter ID Laws in the US and UK With Gretchen Coleman ’22 on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
There Gretchen Coleman ’22 was, enjoying a private tour of the House of Lords, the second chamber of the United Kingdom (U.K.) Parliament, that was led by a peer, a member who was passionate about election reform.
The topic is near and dear to Coleman’s heart. As she was escorted through the House of Lords, Coleman found herself feeling a deep appreciation for the life-altering experiences afforded to her as a recipient of a Fulbright postgraduate award.
“I’m so grateful every day. Sometimes it’s hard to process that I’m actually here and have this amazing research opportunity,” says Coleman, who earned bachelor’s degrees in both political science and political philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.
“This has allowed me to really focus on my research and focus on the things I’m passionate about, with the luxury of being able to think about my big research questions while traveling and exploring the U.K. That’s something I will never take for granted because it’s really so meaningful to me.”
Coleman, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in political science, democracy and elections at the University of Manchester, has researched voter ID laws in the U.S. Now, she’s shifting her focus to the U.K., which is about to hold the country’s first elections where voters are required to show ID when they vote. The reason behind the policy change is a growing mistrust in the election process, and the new laws closely follow those in the U.S.
Coleman’s research will analyze materials sent to voters informing them of the policy change to examine how well-informed voters were about the policy shift. Afterwards, Coleman’s findings will be used for a report on how the U.K. can improve its elections.
On this ’Cuse Conversation, Coleman discusses her research, compares voter ID laws in the U.S. with the U.K., reveals how she became interested in politics and elections, addresses the growing concern in the U.S. over voters not trusting election results, and shares how she wants to use this research to make election laws less discriminatory and more representative.
Check out episode 138 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Gretchen Coleman ’22. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01How did you become interested in voter identification laws?
Like most young people who are interested in politics, I started working on a campaign because that’s a really good way to put your foot in the door. The summer before I started at Syracuse, I was working on a campaign for my local state representative back home in Illinois.
She ended up losing that election by just 43 votes, which was a little bit heartbreaking because 40,000 people voted in that election and we could have knocked on 40 more doors. The recount process ended up taking so long that when I was back home for Christmas my freshman year, I went into the Cook County Clerk’s office and saw them counting the ballots.
As much as I hated the results of that election and wish things could have been different, I had full confidence that all of those votes were counted correctly. That helped me change gears to realize my real passion was the non-partisan election processes, trying to get people to believe in their elections and get as many people as possible to participate.
02What does your research encompass when it comes to voter ID laws?
We have people who need to be able to get to the polls and cast their ballot and make their voices heard. And key to that is making sure that people are aware of the ID requirements. If they have an ID, they can bring it with them to the polls, but also if they don’t have an ID they need to know about their options to be able to get an ID.
For example, in the U.K. if you don’t have an ID, you can apply for a free voter authorization certificate. It is on the government and it’s on political parties and it’s on anyone who has a stake in getting people out to vote to bridge that information gap and to let people know about their options for IDs. And that’s not exactly what I’ve been seeing. I think there are going to be some gaps in who is letting people know about the new voter ID requirements, and that’s the angle I’m coming at this with.
03We've seen a rise in election distrust when it comes to people not believing the results of elections. Just how big of a problem is this?
It’s probably the biggest issue we’re facing with our democracy and probably will continue to face for the foreseeable future. That is something I worked on with my undergraduate thesis at Syracuse. I was interviewing young people to figure out how much they trusted in elections and I feel like that’s just become even more salient of an issue in the months since I finished that thesis.
What I think is fascinating is to some extent, it doesn’t matter how well-run elections are, the robustness of an election isn’t going to convince people to trust it. It is a more deeply rooted issue. You could be influenced by family members, by a political leader that you like or by misinformation. If that sits with you, that’s the reason you’re going to be distrusting of an election.
04How do you want to use this research moving forward? What are your career goals and ambitions?
For the past couple of years, I’ve been really interested in anything related to election administration and getting more people out to vote. So I’ve been trying to explore that from a lot of different angles. And then through this master’s degree, I really loved doing research. I’m hoping to combine those moving forward into my career to do some election policy research, looking at new election laws and how we could fix election laws so they are less discriminatory and more representative of the people. And then using policy research to shape those laws and inform policymakers.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.