Where Voter-ID Laws May Decide the Election

Some fear new regulations endanger black voter turnout in these battleground states.

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Getty Images

(The Root) — If there are two words that still-angry Democrats use as shorthand to summarize all that went wrong in the 2000 presidential election, those words might just be “hanging chads.” But “hanging chads” may soon be joined by “voter-I.D. laws” as the catchphrases progressives use while playing the blame game after a disappointing presidential election. Though hanging chads primarily affected one state (albeit an important one in an important election) the far-reaching and long-term implications of voter-I.D. laws could affect this presidential election and many elections to follow at the local, state and federal level.

Four years ago black voters emerged as one of the most powerful voting blocs of the presidential election. Of the nearly 5 million new voters in 2008, 2 million were black and Hispanic. For the first time in history, black women had the highest voter turnout of any voter demographic. This increase in minority voter turnout is credited with making a difference in a number of states that President Obama ultimately won, including Ohio, Virginia and Indiana. In an earlier interview with The Root, Chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus Rep. Emanuel Cleaver noted that if 2 percent to 5 percent of black voter turnout decreased due to voter-I.D. laws in the current race, President Obama’s re-election would be in jeopardy.

Critics of voter-identification laws have pointed out that they disproportionately affect black people, who are less likely to possess a government-issued photo I.D. Nevertheless, according to a report by the Advancement Project, 37 states have enacted or considered some form of voter-I.D. laws since 2011, but nine have enacted particularly strict and onerous requirements, eschewing traditionally accepted forms of voter identification such as expired driver’s licenses, student identification cards and veteran-identification cards. During this election the laws will be in force in six states (pdf): Georgia, Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and Indiana.

The remaining three states with the most restrictive regulations have had their laws struck down by courts, which means they will not be in effect this election, but may be in the future: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Even in the states where the restrictive regulations won’t be in effect, there’s fear that some of the misleading rhetoric used during the fight over the laws will be enough to intimidate some voters from showing up at the polls even if they can, legally. For instance, if someone mistakenly believes he needs to obtain a new piece of identification to vote, and he has not had the time or resources to do so, he may just assume that at this point it is too late and simply decide to stay home on Election Day.

Opponents of the Pennsylvania voter-I.D. law are so concerned that many voters are unaware their law has been struck down that they requested an injunction requiring the state to more effectively inform voters. On Nov. 1, a judge denied this request. For this reason, and the fact that misinformation campaigns regarding voter laws have been documented in the state of Wisconsin, The Root is including those states in the following overview of the places where the effect of voter I.D. laws could make the difference in this election.


Though this is a state that President Obama won in 2008, it has been a battleground state for multiple presidential elections, and this one is no different. A recent poll found Obama and Romney tied, though a just-released poll shows President Obama with a lead. As an indication of just how close previous presidential races in Wisconsin have been, it bears noting that Democratic nominee John Kerry won the state in 2004 by less than one percentage point (pdf).

Clearly the importance of Wisconsin has not been lost on either political party. A supporter of Mitt Romney sparked criticism for paying for a series of deceptive billboards that were posted in predominantly minority communities in Wisconsin proclaiming, “Voter fraud is a felony.” An investigation sparked by media coverage led to the billboards being removed. Recently the Romney campaign was accused of training poll watchers to provide inaccurate information on voter eligibility in Wisconsin.