As the 2012 election races towards its conclusion, so do efforts by Republicans around the country to enact legislation restricting who can vote and when they can do so. Despite the utter lack of evidence of widespread fraud, which one study found occurs about once for every 15 million voters, Republicans are convinced that illegal aliens and criminals are going to debase and steal the upcoming election. Conversely, Democrats see these laws as a blatant effort to disenfranchise minorities, the poor, and students – typically Democratic voters – and have been fighting to stop these efforts in their tracks.
Given how this conflict has been occurring over a period of months and in dozens of different states, what is the overall picture of the situation and can it swing the election one way or another come November?
Fortunately for Democrats, they have two things in their favor. First, although a raft of voter ID legislation has been implemented since 2006, Democratic efforts have been largely successful in killing voter ID bills. Secondly, even if a voter ID bill were to pass, it would not likely disenfranchise enough people to alter the outcome of any of the swing states one way or another.
President Obama has recently been pulling away in the polls after the Democratic National Convention; he is viewed for the first time as equally capable of managing the economy as Mitt Romney; and the discrepancy in the level of enthusiasm between liberals and conservative voters has returned to historical levels after a period of liberal malaise. Moreover, voter ID bills are a double-edged sword that on one hand could disenfranchise millions of minority citizens who vote Democratic, but also numerous and more conservative senior citizens who lack up-to-date ID’s and often the documents needed to get new ones. With President Obama leading in most of the swing states, Mitt Romney must rely on hard work and not legal gimmicks to pull out a victory.
Here is a list of the voter ID situation in the swing states, ordered by electoral importance:
In Ohio, the legislature and Secretary of State tried to limit the number of early votiers by allowing only military personnel to vote the weekend preceding the election, before being stopped by the courts for infringing on minority voters’ rights and lacking compelling grounds for the action. Given how in 2008, 96,000 Ohioans voted early before the election, of which African-Americans made up a large and disproportionate number, Democrats have been celebrating ever since. That said, the battle over how provisional ballots should be counted continues. Obama is up by 4% - 5% in the last two polls in the state, which are themselves part of a long string of polls putting him in the lead.
Governor Rick Scott tried to help the GOP by imposing restrictions on third-party voter registration groups; reducing the number of days and hours polls could be open for early voting; and by attempting to purge the voter rolls of suspect people. Unfortunately, the former action was defeated by the courts, and the second upheld only if the number of voting hours was kept constant over the 8 days before the election. The last effort proved to be far less damaging than expected, as the number of people purged from voter rolls was also greatly reduced after county voting supervisors revealed that the lists they were handed of ineligible voters were full of errors, forcing the state to let most of those disqualified back on the rolls. While the ability of black churches to help their congregations vote on Sunday before the election – “souls to the polls” – will be hurt by the restricted hours, the overall impact of Gov. Scott’s efforts is negligible. The latest poll had Obama up by 4% in Florida and it will be nearly impossible for Romney to win if he loses that state.
Democrats were particularly incensed by the efforts of Republicans in Pennsylvania to pass voter ID bills given the lack of evidence for their case and thanks to a statement given by GOP House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (not a minor figure) that an enacted bill would disenfranchise so many Democrats that it would swing the state to Romney. All of their worst suspicions were confirmed and they challenged the constitutionality of the relevant bill. Unfortunately for them, a local judge upheld the law during its first trial by arguing that the political purpose behind the law didn’t trump the state’s legitimate interest in guaranteeing public confidence in the election. It will be heard again by the state’s Supreme Court shortly, but its impact on November is up in the air. A lot of work is needed to overcome Obama’s polling lead of 5%-10%, which has held for months now.
Unlike other states, Virginia not only passed a voter ID bill but had it approved by the Justice Department. Although it mandated the use of an ID to vote for the first time, the state also increased the range of identifications that would be accepted by officials. The polls in Virginia have been choppy lately, with the most recent poll putting President Obama up by 5%, but Romney could possibly carry the state with the help of this bill.
In an interesting twist, Republican Governor Rick Snyder split from his own party and vetoed an effort by the GOP legislature to pass a voter ID law. If Mitt Romney is to win the state, he needs to do it the hard way. Unfortunately for him, the last two polls in Michigan put Obama up by 7% - 10%, continuing a solid lead that the President has held for most of the year and almost guaranteeing that the state will go Democratic in November.
Although her own career took a fall shortly thereafter, Democratic Governor Bev Perdue vetoed an effort by the GOP legislature to pass a voter ID bill in 2011. Given how Republican Pat McCrory will likely win the gubernatorial seat in November, the bill will surely come up again and pass, but that won’t be of any help this year. Romney has consistently been ahead in the polls however, with a 2% average lead according to Nate Silver of 538.
Before the GOP lost its dominance of the legislature, it passed its own voter ID law … only to see two judges block enforcement of it while it is being argued in court, stalling it in a process that won’t end until after November. Wisconsin has consistently leaned Democratic, with Obama holding a 2% lead in the latest poll, which was taken before the Democratic National Convention, making his lead likely greater now.
As you can see, in all of the states where it could have the greatest impact, Republican efforts to determine who can vote and when have been stymied, stalled, or diluted. The only way to victory is to persuade enough voters to support the ticket, and Romney has been tarred by President Obama’s Bain attacks, he has made poor political choices on issues like immigration, foreign affairs, and on entitlement reform (via his selection of Paul Ryan as VP); he has and has suffered from poor messaging a communications operation that stubbornly refuses to right itself.
Although Republicans are not lacking for funds – as one media consultant put it, ““They’ve got so much money sloshing around they could run attack spots in France” – it increasingly looks like they need a political hail-Mary to win the White House in November.