After the barrage of new voting laws that passed in about 30 states last year, making it harder to vote — by placing tight restrictions on voter-registration drives, requiring voters to present government-issued photo identification, reducing early voting periods and, in one case, adding a provision stating that precinct workers don't have to tell voters where their correct polling location is if they show up at the wrong site — there has been aggressive pushback.
The Department of Justice is reviewing the laws in some states and has already blocked them in South Carolina and Texas. Advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Advancement Project and the Fair Elections Legal Network, have also challenged the laws in court.
But with legal challenges ongoing and the election only six months away, the Obama campaign is preparing for the possibility that these laws are upheld this November. Its weapon of choice: organizing.
Last weekend across the country, field-workers for the Obama campaign underwent comprehensive training on the laws in their respective states, ensuring that volunteers understand the new rules and are equipped with education tools to help voters navigate them. "Every state law is a little different, so we're focused on how to best train the volunteers and make sure we're compliant," Katie Hogan, deputy press secretary for the campaign, told The Root.
Michael Shear of the New York Times gives this rundown of campaign operations in three battleground states:
In Wisconsin, where a new state law requires those registering voters to be deputized in whichever of the state's 1,800 municipalities they are assigned to, the campaign sent a team of trainers armed with instructions for complying with the new regulations.
In Florida, the campaign's voter registration aides traveled across the state to train volunteers on a new requirement that voter registration signatures be handed in to state officials within 48 hours after they are collected.
And in Ohio, Mr. Obama's staff members have begun reaching out to let voters know about new laws that discourage precinct workers from telling voters where to go if they show up at the wrong precinct.
The campaign's efforts are especially crucial in Florida, where the law carries severe fines, of up to $1,000 per voter, if organizations don't turn in completed registration forms within 48 hours. It's a requirement that the state's League of Women Voters found so stiff that it shut down its registration activities. In fact, since the law took effect last May, 81,471 fewer Floridians have been registered to vote than during the same period before the 2008 election. The Obama campaign hopes that its training measures, which require volunteers to pass a quiz before they can register voters, will help pick up the slack.
In the 16 states that have passed voter-ID laws, campaign workers have also been armed with written information for citizens about the new voting requirement, informing them on the appropriate identification to use and where they can get it. They're also incorporating language on the new laws into all of their person-to-person fieldwork.
"It's not about just expanding the electorate," said Hogan of the extra steps that the campaign is taking this time around, adding that the training sessions will be ongoing from now through the fall. "It's making sure that those who are already registered understand if there are new restrictions."
Although the new laws place added burdens on the campaign, from the registration process all the way to getting out the vote, they're counting on their organizing efforts being strong enough to put up a fight. "The Obama campaign believes in making voting easier and more accessible, and we know that registering voters is challenging," she said. "But we are committed to doing it."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's senior political correspondent.