How voter ID confusion, early voting could affect turnout in November elections

By PBS NewsHour RELATED LINKSCourts strike down voter ID laws in Texas, Wisconsin Supreme Court OKs Texas voter ID law for November election Voter ID law has Virginia Democrats scrambling

GWEN IFILL: In an unusual Saturday ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for enforcement of Texas’ voter I.D. law, considered among the strictest in the nation. The action is the latest in a series of pre-election court rulings that have changed polling requirements for voters in 18 states, among them North Carolina.

Kelley McHenry of public station UNC-TV reports the new regulations have left some voters scratching their heads.

KELLEY MCHENRY, UNC-TV: At a recent voter education forum in Granville County, it was clear there is much confusion about the state’s new voting law.

MAN: Where can you get free I.D.s?

MAN: Something about people — people coming from other precincts to challenge.

KELLEY MCHENRY: It’s not surprising there’s confusion. Over the last few weeks, there has been a flurry of court appeals and decisions, which first upheld, then reversed, then upheld again the new requirements.

The new voter law includes a photo I.D. requirement, a ban on same-day registration, no out-of-precinct voting, and a reduction in the number of early voting days. All of the rules took effect this year, with the exception of the photo I.D., which starts in 2016.

The law was passed in 2013 by a newly elected Republican legislature, and the changes are bitterly dividing voters.

XAVIER GRANTHAM: I’m very concerned about it. I think the turnout will be even lower. I think folks will be frustrated. They won’t understand. They won’t come to vote.

JERRY STONE: Well, I think the changes are being made to make the whole voting process more honest and more believable.

KELLEY MCHENRY: Proponents of the law say the changes were needed to protect against fraud, although even they admit the number of reported fraudulent cases has been low in the past.

JAY DELANCY, Voter Integrity Project: The vast bulk of them have not voted since before 2003, and they’re on the voter rolls still.

KELLEY MCHENRY: Jay DeLancy runs the Voter Integrity Project in Raleigh. Its mission? To root out voter fraud. He says the reason there are so few cases is because people aren’t looking for fraud and district attorneys don’t prosecute it.

JAY DELANCY: I had one DA scoff at me and say, I have got DUIs to prosecute. I don’t have the resources for this.

KELLEY MCHENRY: The new voting requirements have prompted a public outcry from many groups, including the NAACP, which worries the restrictions will take the state back to an era when segregationist laws known as Jim Crow prevented blacks from voting.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER, PRESIDENT, NORTH CAROLINA NAACP: This fundamental attack on voting rights and implementing of voter suppression bills is the worst thing we have seen since Jim Crow. It has angered so many people, but they are turning their anger into action.

KELLEY MCHENRY: The NAACP and the Department of Justice are suing the state, arguing that the new voting laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That court case is scheduled for next year.

The NAACP says the new laws are specifically designed to suppress black votes. And it points to studies which show African-Americans are twice as likely to utilize early voting and 50 percent more likely to use same-day registration.

REV. DR. WILLIAM BARBER: We should be looking for more ways for people to vote, not less ways. And what we are finding is all of their claims about fraud are fraudulent themselves.

KELLEY MCHENRY: The North Carolina voter I.D. law comes on the heels of the Supreme Court decision last year to strike down key parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Supreme Court lifted federal restrictions over states like North Carolina that had a history of voter suppression.

Marilyn Avila, one of the sponsors of the new law, says the Supreme Court was right to lift the restrictions. She says the fact that one in five state lawmakers is African-American shows that North Carolina has moved on from its troubled history.

MARILYN AVILA, (R), State Representative: In the days of Jim Crow, it was, this is the way life is and we don’t know it any differently. We know differently today.

KELLEY MCHENRY: All of the recent court rulings could spell confusion at the polls in November, although they may encourage some people to get out and vote.

Kelley McHenry, UNC-TV.

GWEN IFILL: It’s politics Monday here at the “NewsHour,” and already voting is under way in a handful of states, including in Illinois, where, today, President Obama campaigned for Governor Pat Quinn and cast his hometown ballot.

For more on how early voting, voter I.D. laws, and final stretch campaigning might determine Election Day outcomes in just a little over two weeks, we are joined by, Stu Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, and Susan Page, the Washington bureau chief for USA Today.

Two weeks out, what is the landscape, Stu?

STUART ROTHENBERG, The Rothenberg Political Report: I think the trajectory sun changed from a couple months ago. That is, the Republicans have a little breeze at their back. They have a lot of opportunities in Senate races and even House races.

The governors situation is a bit quirkier, with both sides worrying about incumbents. But right now, the environment certainly favors the Republicans.

GWEN IFILL: When you see these voter I.D. stories like in North Carolina, and also there are other voter balloting stories around the country, do you think that, in some tight races, Susan, this may have an affect on the outcome?

SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: You know, I think in most of the places where they are enforcing these new voter I.D. laws, they are not places where they have close races.

They are enforcing them in Texas. We know that Republicans are in really a good situation with Texas. North Carolina might be the exception that proves the rule. We think that Senate race is going to be close. Even a rather modest effect on the electorate could help determine who wins that race.

GWEN IFILL: But it’s — it’s certainly — I’m thinking about Colorado. I’m thinking about early voting in Georgia. That perhaps could have some sort of impact on who turns out?

SUSAN PAGE: Early voting definitely could. If Democrats can use early voting to get some people to vote who might not turn out in a midterm election, who tend to vote Democratic, like African-Americans, like younger people, then that could definitely have an effect on some of these close races.

STUART ROTHENBERG: So the mail ballot is a big question mark for us in Colorado. How will it effect turnout rates? Will people who ordinarily don’t vote, because it’s so easy to vote, just mail your ballot in, will they participate?

And this is one of the big, huge problems we have as handicappers and reporters and analysts. It is about — it really is turnout. And, you know, viewers, I’m sure they laugh and, oh, they’re just — what a cop-out. They say it’s about turnout.

But that’s really important, particularly in these midterm elections, where there is a significant drop in turnout by some significant groups historically, younger voters, Hispanics, Latinos. And we don’t know who is going to vote.

Plus, Gwen, Democrats are making a major effort in terms of I.D.ing, registering and turning out voters. It was a year ago when I was talking to Democratic strategists. And they said, look at Arkansas. We’re going to register all these new voters and we’re going to turn them out. The Republicans are going to be shocked.

I have Republicans telling me, just watch our turnout efforts in Colorado, in Iowa. They think they have — if they haven’t equaled what the Democrats have done, at least they’re going to surprise.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and at the very least, don’t both parties, aren’t they both in search of debating points? Isn’t that what is really happening in a midterm election like this? The Democrats want to debate voter suppression or voter turnout. And the Republicans want to debate the president.

SUSAN PAGE: I don’t think voter I.D. laws are something that turns the electorate.

It’s important. It is an important thing. We want people to be able to vote. But if you talk to people about what they care about, they care about the economy and jobs. They care about the threat of ISIS, in the sense that the country is under attack, could have bigger terror threat. They worry about Ebola.

I think that when you get to things like voter I.D. laws, it’s really — for swing voters, that isn’t something you hear them raising. And it seems to me that voter — identifying voters and turning them out only takes you so far. If the landscape is negative for you, it is going to be uphill. And we have a landscape right now that is pretty friendly to Republicans.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I agree. I agree completely.

But I would add that I think you’re right that Democratic strategists and Democratic candidates can go into the minority community, and say, Republicans don’t want you to vote. That is a…

GWEN IFILL: And are doing that.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Absolutely. And, right, they’re doing that. And that is a way to motivate groups that traditionally fall off in midterm elections.

GWEN IFILL: An Republicans go to their base and say, we do not trust these Democrats who are voting with the president 99 percent of the time, and, therefore — but that is why I wonder whether that is all to gin up a remarkably unenthusiastic electorate this time.

SUSAN PAGE: You know, people are unenthusiastic about politics in Washington. But Republicans are pretty ginned up about President Obama.

And it seems to me Republicans have a much easier tax in getting their people to come out because they’re against — they have been opposed to the president. They thought they should have taken the Senate in — last time around. They really — in two cycles, they have failed in their efforts to win the Senate.

If they can’t win it this time, under what circumstances could Republicans win control of the Senate?

GWEN IFILL: What competitive races are most surprising to you at this stage?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Well, in the Senate, boy, it changes every week.

(LAUGHTER)

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

STUART ROTHENBERG: And this week, what is surprising to me, or the last few weeks, it is the Kansas is in play. Republican Senator Pat Roberts is in serious trouble.

GWEN IFILL: Susan’s home state.

SUSAN PAGE: Yes, that’s right.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Then, in a three-way race in South Dakota, the Republicans — Mike Rounds is being widely criticized by Republicans for the race he is running. And the Republicans are worried. They think they will win that state, but they are worried.

That Georgia has come into play, and I’m still interested very much in Colorado and Iowa, which I think — when we started this cycle, we thought, well, these races are Democrats’ to lose. And they may be doing that. So there are a bunch of races I think are still fascinating.

GWEN IFILL: Is your map the same?

SUSAN PAGE: I think it would be — I think it would be very similar.

You know, I’m also struck by the races in which independent third-party candidates are going to be a factor. You mentioned you have got an independent in Kansas who might win the Senate. In South Dakota, you have somebody who is essentially an independent candidate who might determine the outcome. That could…

GWEN IFILL: You’re talking about Larry Pressler.

SUSAN PAGE: That’s right.

And you know what that says to me? That says to me people usually vote in the two-party system, but they are sick and tired of these two parties and they are willing to entertain people from other places.

GWEN IFILL: OK, let me put you on the spot and looking at the same question a different way, which is, what is most interesting race or the most consequential race that nobody is paying attention to very much right now that you can go governor, Senate, statehouse?

STUART ROTHENBERG: Wow.

SUSAN PAGE: That’s tough.

GWEN IFILL: Yes.

STUART ROTHENBERG: The most consequential race that nobody is…

GWEN IFILL: She mentioned — for instance, Susan, you mentioned Maine.

SUSAN PAGE: Maine, OK.

GWEN IFILL: Which I don’t hear anybody talking about it.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Nobody.

SUSAN PAGE: But it’s kind of a — it’s kind of a quirky race.

On the other hand, the idea that Governor LePage could win a second term, after barely winning a first term and governing in a controversial way, that would be pretty surprising.

I think Gabby Giffords’s seat in Arizona, I’m looking at that one because it has become kind of ground central for the debate over gun control in a state where people own guns and use guns. So, that might be one.

STUART ROTHENBERG: I will give you two quick ones.

GWEN IFILL: Oh, I gave you a chance to think about it.

(LAUGHTER)

STUART ROTHENBERG: One is the Kansas governor’s race, where Sam Brownback could possibly lose.

And I think this reflects a deep division in the Kansas Republican Party that is reflective of the larger Tea Party, libertarian vs. establishment argument in the Republican Party nationally.

And the second one I would look is the Illinois governor’s race, where Governor Quinn…

GWEN IFILL: Where the president was today.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Governor Quinn, I mean, two months ago, I would have said he’s toast, put a fork in him, he’s done. And now the race is even. And it is an interesting race in terms of the Republicans are running a very wealthy businessman who is running as a candidate for change and a businessman.

And the Democrats are just trying to gin up the Democratic vote and turn it out the final few weeks, as they did four years ago.

GWEN IFILL: Well, and one of the few safe places where the president can go campaign, as he did yesterday in Maryland.

SUSAN PAGE: Can you believe we’re two weeks out and the president has made just his first campaign appearance…

GWEN IFILL: It is amazing.

SUSAN PAGE: … to rally voters?

GWEN IFILL: Well, we will be watching to see if there’s any more.

Thank you both very much, Stu Rothenberg, Susan Page.

STUART ROTHENBERG: Thanks.

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