Where Voter-ID Laws May Decide the Election

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(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.

Additionally, Wisconsin is the site of one of the nation's most hotly contested U.S. Senate races. While a new poll has Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin with a small lead, a poll released a couple of weeks ago had Republican Tommy Thompson with an even smaller lead, meaning the race is essentially a dead heat. As mentioned earlier, control of the U.S. Senate is at stake in the outcome of this race — which will most likely come down to a percentage point or two. The outcome will significantly impact the policies of our country for years to come.


On another note, Baldwin's win would make history. She would become the first openly gay person elected to the United States Senate.


Though 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry lost the state of Indiana badly (pdf), President Obama managed to squeak out a win in 2008. The margin? Just 30,000 votes (pdf). The president seems unlikely to repeat this feat this election, with polls showing him trailing Mitt Romney by more than 10 points; however, Indiana could be the state that decides which party will control the United States Senate.


Democrats hold the slimmest possible Senate majority, and since many key votes, among them health care reform, have fallen largely along party lines, the entire legislative agenda for the next few years will be decided not just by the presidential election, but by which senators are elected or re-elected on Tuesday. This is why, despite the fact that Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock may have cost Mitt Romney the presidential election with his controversial comments on rape (Romney had just endorsed and filmed an ad for Mourdock, which he declined to rescind), the national Republican Party has rallied to Mourdock's aid. New polls make it clear that this will be a close race, which means every vote will count.


Like each Democrat before him dating back to 1988, President Obama carried the state of Pennsylvania in the presidential election. The president won by about half a million votes in 2008 (pdf), which sounds like a lot until you consider that the population of Pennsylvania is nearly 13 million. (The president's Democratic predecessor, 2004 nominee Sen. John Kerry, only won the state by two percentage points (pdf).) A new poll indicates that this year's presidential election will be even closer than the last. Though he held a double-digit lead last month, the most recent polling data show Romney and President Obama virtually tied in the state. It's worth noting that up until Oct. 28, just over a week before Election Day, Pennsylvania voters were still being mailed fliers with the outdated voter-identification requirements listed.


With regard to the senate race: While polls have shown Democratic Sen. Bob Casey with a healthy lead over his Republican opponent, now that Romney appears to be gaining momentum in the state, conservatives have begun investing more heavily in the closing weeks of the campaign in an effort to unseat the Democratic incumbent, perhaps betting it will come down to the wire.

Keli Goff is The Root's political correspondent.

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Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter