Opponents of restrictive new voting laws won a major victory and suffered a potentially significant blow this week when Michigan’s Republican governor vetoed expanding his state’s photo identification requirement and when Pennsylvania election officials said that the state’s photo ID requirement will adversely impact more voters than the state’s GOP administration initially advertised.
The recent actions could have a major impact on the race between incumbent President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as Michigan and Pennsylvania are critical swing states needed to win the White House.
On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder became the first Republican governor in the nation to reject more stringent rules for residents to register and vote. Snyder surprised his GOP colleagues by refusing to sign three bills that would have required voters to show photo ID before obtaining absentee ballots, made voters prove their citizenship before receiving an absentee ballot, and required training for people involved in voter registration efforts.
Snyder rejected the bills because they “could create confusion among absentee voters,” the governor’s office said in a statement. A spokeswoman elaborated that the confusion surrounded parts of the bills that would have made voters check a citizenship box before getting their ballots. She said Snyder believes that verification of citizenship should be done only once – when a voter is first registered.
In a statement, Snyder’s office said he quashed the voter registration training provision because “changes with the registration of third party registration organizations, and the timing and training of those entities, may cause confusion with ongoing voter registration efforts.”
“Gov. Snyder did the right thing by vetoing this restrictive bill, which would have been bad for Michigan and could have violated federal law,” said Diana Kasdan of the Brennan Center for Justice, which monitors changes in voting access. “In the past two years, a wave of restrictive laws has passed across the country that could make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. These measures, like the one in Michigan, are bad policy and must be rejected. It is good Gov. Snyder recognized that.”
Michigan, which already has a photo ID voting law on its books, was one of more than a dozen states – most of them under Republican control – that passed a spate of new voting access laws that supporters say are needed to guard against voter fraud.
But opponents – including the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union – say the new laws are efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, the young, the elderly, and the poor who tend to vote for Democratic candidates.
Some of the new laws include requiring voters to show government-approved photo ID to register or vote; restricting or eliminating voter registration efforts by third-party groups like the NAACP or the youth-oriented Rock the Vote; curtailing or eliminating early voting; and rescinding the right to vote for convicted felons who’ve served their time.
The states that have approved new voting access laws account for 171 electoral votes this year, 63 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency, according to New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice
A few states have added their own wrinkles to the new laws. Florida, for example, eliminated voting on the last Sunday before Election Day. In 2008, the bulk of Florida’s black voters cast ballots on that last Sunday, propelled by “Souls to the Polls” initiatives by the state’s black churches.
In Texas, a student photo ID from the state-funded University of Texas is insufficient to vote but a Texas concealed gun license is sufficient proof of voter eligibility.
Like in Florida and Texas, Pennsylvania’s legislature approved a new photo ID voting law that Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration insisted would only be potentially problematic for only one percent of the Keystone State’s 8.2 million voters.
But The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Tuesday that more than 758,000 registered voters – 9.2 percent of the registered voting population – don’t have photo identification cards needed from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, making them potentially ineligible to vote this November.
The biggest problem area appears to be Philadelphia, a city with a large black population. According to The Inquirer, 186,830 registered voters – 18 percent of the city’s total registration – don’t have PennDot-issued driver’s licenses on non-driver photo ID cards.
The state law accepts various forms of photo ID including U.S. passports, student ID with expiration dates, and current military ID. But the PennDot-issued photo ID is likely to be the most widely-used.
Pennsylvania House Republican leader Mike Turzai, speaking at a state Republican meeting in June, seemed to confirm what many foes of the new voting laws believe: that they are naked efforts to thin Democratic votes.
“Voter ID – which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done,” Turzai said.