How Romney Can Win: Voter ID Laws Passed in Pennsylvania, Ohio Could Swing Election 2012


As the presidential race enters into the home stretch, controversial laws in several swing states requiring voters to have state-issued identification could prove impactful. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania, where polls show Obama and Romney are essentially tied, are currently embroiled in lengthy appeals processes to determine the constitutionality of recently-passed voting laws. On Thursday, the Pennsylvania supreme court will hear appeal arguments against its new voter ID law. It joins four other states with strict photo ID laws and six states with less strict photo ID requirements. Meanwhile, Ohio just had restrictions on polling hours struck down, which may also be subject to an appeal.

Photo ID laws have the potential to cause sweeping disenfranchisement in the states where they are enacted. Studies show that around 11% of eligible voters do not currently possess photo IDs. However, certain demographic groups, such as Blacks, Asians, Latinos, 18-24 year-olds, the poor, and seniors, are significantly less likely to have photo IDs. All of these groups, excluding seniors, tend to vote Democratic. Many members of these same groups also lack or cannot afford supporting documents required to obtain photo IDs, such as birth certificates. Certain Republicans have even admitted that photo ID laws will give Republicans an advantage, with Pennsylvania State Senator Mike Turzai saying, "Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

Most defenders of the new laws have cited a need to prevent in-person voter fraud (these laws will leave absentee ballot fraud unaddressed). A recent study surveying 2,068 cases of all types of alleged voter fraud (including registration fraud, vote buying, double voting, etc.) since the year 2000 found there to be a total of only ten instances of alleged in-person fraud in that time frame. Much more common, but still relatively rare, were absentee ballot fraud and registration fraud, neither of which would be affected by photo IDs.

Despite numerous arguments against these new laws, legal battles are poised to have a potentially large effect on the outcome of the presidential election. Several hundred thousand people in Pennsylvania stand to be disenfranchised should the voter ID law be upheld, enough to be decisive in such a close race. However, it is possible the appeals could last until after election day, leading to a scenario similar to the 2000 presidential election. 

Florida is also going through several electoral litigations. Courts have recently struck down restrictions on voter-registrations, and voting days and hours have undergone several changes. Bob Graham, a former Democratic senator and governor of Florida, expects confusion and a "flood of litigation … if the vote in Florida is anywhere near as close as it was in 2000."

In such a tight race, it seems the outcome of the election could once again be up to the courts long after the polls have closed.