Whose votes count, whose don't? The legal landscape before Election Day
Here's how judges have ruled in four major election-law flash points: voter ID laws, early voting, provisional ballots, and the purging of voter registration rolls.
Not since Bush versus Gore in the 2000 election have so many lawyers and so many judges been involved in determining the intricate details of how a presidential election would be conducted – and potentially decided.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite an unprecedented blitz of preelection litigation in recent months, it remains unclear whether controversial changes in state election laws involving voter identification, early voting, and provisional ballots, among others, will influence who wins and who loses on Election Day.
But this much is clear: The legal landscape on the eve of the 2012 presidential election generally favors the status quo that existed prior to passage of the new laws.
The rough trend among judges, appointed by both Republicans and Democrats, has been to decide preelection disputes in favor of cutting back on election-law changes that they deemed likely to present obstacles to prospective voters.
The decisions have sought to foster more access to the polls at the expense of laws passed by Republican-controlled state legislatures that lawmakers said were aimed at boosting the integrity of election results.
In the bitter rhetoric of the campaign, the battle was between what Democrats denounced as voter suppression measures and what Republican lawmakers touted as necessary antifraud provisions.
In the end, it appears the 2012 presidential election will be decided not through fraud or suppression, but the old-fashioned way – at the ballot box.
“Nearly all of the worst new laws to cut back on voting have been blocked, blunted, repealed, or postponed,” according to a recent report by the public-interest law group Brennan Center for Justice, which opposed the Republican-passed measures.
“Laws in 14 states were reversed or weakened,” the report says. “As a result, new restrictions will affect far fewer than the 5 million citizens we predicted last year. For the overwhelming majority of those whose rights were most at risk, the ability to vote will not be at issue on November 6th.”
The battles weren’t just over which election rules would apply. Public opinion was also part of the calculus.
A concerted campaign to portray Republican election reforms as an attempt to steal the election through voter suppression helped Democrats energize base voters.
For Republicans, the raging debate helped transmit a deterrent message to potential fraudsters that cheaters would be discovered and prosecuted.
What follows is a review of four major election-law flash points: voter ID laws, early voting, provisional ballots, and the purging of voter registration rolls.
Voter ID laws
Voter ID laws were passed in at least 11 states in recent years.
Opponents of the laws said they would probably hurt President Obama’s reelection chances by disenfranchising a considerable number of low-income, older, and minority voters who lack the necessary identification and the means to obtain it. Some called it the modern-day equivalent of a poll tax.