Amid the fallout from a Pennsylvania judge allowing the state’s voter ID law to advance, the Philadelphia Inquirer, um, inquires as to whether the law could affect the outcome of the Presidential election:
Political strategists and experts in election law caution that it is difficult to predict the electoral impact of such laws in Pennsylvania and the other states that have adopted similarly restrictive measures […]
“It’s certainly our fear that it’s going to cut down turnout in Philadelphia, and a lot of races are close in the state of Pennsylvania,” U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who also is the city’s Democratic Party chairman, told The Inquirer after the Wednesday ruling. “There’s a very good chance that there will be some impact.” […]
Academic studies that have sought to evaluate effects of the stricter ballot-access laws, such as those that require photo ID, estimate turnout decreasing by an average of about 2 percent of registered voters in a state.
Really, voter suppression laws just try to shave off some votes on the margins. If you can lower turnout by 2%, and you can target that reduction so that it impacts the most heavily Democratic areas, in a close race that can obviously make a difference. It’s not determinative, but it certainly helps the cause.
That’s why you’re seeing a coordinated effort, in swing states controlled by Republicans, to suppress the vote. Florida’s Rick Scott announced yesterday that he would soon engage in a new voter purge effort, armed with data from the Department of Homeland Security’s SAVE database. This means that he will attempt to throw voters off the rolls within 80 days of the election, a highly unusual occurrence, especially because it would take at least 60 days to mail out letters to potential purge victims and await a response.
In Ohio, Secretary of State Jon Husted tried to split the hours for early voting, so that Republican counties would have weekend hours and longer office times, and Democratic counties would have shorter weekday hours. Husted has now vowed to offer uniform hours for early voting, but under the more restrictive standard, meaning that early voters will still have trouble reaching the polls. And this inevitably suppresses turnout at the margins, and makes it harder on those without flexible schedules to vote. Inevitably, that correlates with Democratic voters, particularly low-income voters in the major cities.
I don’t really get the sense that Democrats are taking these assaults on voting seriously; if they did, they would have gotten off their rears after the 2000 election and demanded some uniform standards and real changes, like voting on the weekends instead of on a Tuesday, or same-day voter registration, or universal voter registration, or paper ballots. Instead, they are relying on a creaky, broken system, and not well. The Boston Globe reports today that the Obama campaign’s voter registration effort is not paying off. In Pennsylvania, getting registered and eligible voters proper ID for the polls is arguably more important, and there is an effort to make that happen from local Democrats. But PennDOT offices are scarce, the state has one of the lowest rates of public employees relative to the population in the country, and we’re already seeing long lines and uninformed clerks for those trying to get IDs. 13 of the 71 PennDOT offices are only open once a week.
This inattention to the fundamental difficulties with voting in America, and the roadblocks being put up by Republicans at every turn, could come back and bite Democrats in November. It’s also antithetical to democracy, but you know…