How Will the Voter ID Controversy Impact the 2012 Elections?

“The thing I fear most is that we’ll have five, six or seven Floridas this November, where the election is close enough that there’s no longer a margin of victory you’re talking about, there’s a margin of litigation, and we will not know the winner of the presidential race for hours or days or perhaps in the case of somewhere like Florida, perhaps for quite sometime, and the next president takes office or continues in office under a cloud.”

A liberal activist sounding the alarm of impending electoral chaos in the wake of new voting restrictions across the U.S.?

Not even close.

It’s a prediction by former Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund speaking before the conservative Heritage Foundation on Aug. 7, 2012.

And it supports several conclusions set forth in Voting Law Changes in 2012, a 64-page report compiled by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law that studied the expected impact of 19 new voting laws and two voting-related executive actions passed in 14 states in 2011 and 2012:

  • The new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012 and are expected to sharply tilt the political terrain for this year’s Presidential election.
  • These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.
  • The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63% of the 270 votes needed to win the presidency.
  • Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by a recent Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

 Overall, 32 states have some form of voter ID law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 3 [See list here]

The new voting laws are being widely contested via grass-roots challenges in numerous local and state courts and by U.S. Department of Justice suits against laws in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Wisconsin and California.

Prior to the 2006 elections, no state required its voters to show government-issued photo ID at the polls or elsewhere. In 2006, Indiana became the first state in the nation to implement photo ID requirements. The Indiana League of Women Voters sued in state and federal courts (Crawford v. Marion County Election Board), contending the law disenfranchised voters. The League lost both cases.

Advocates of strict voter ID laws explain that the new requirements work to prevent fraud – chiefly, people voting who are ineligible or an individual using another person’s identity to vote. Opponents reply that actual documented cases of voter impersonation in recent U.S. elections are extremely rare.

Statistically, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than verify a documented case of voter fraud, said Loyola Law School-Los Angeles professor Justin Levitt in his September, 2011, testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights.

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"The governor still has to come to bat."
—Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, on Atlantic City.