TOPICS > Politics

How Will Strict, Controversial Voter I.D. Laws Affect Poll Turnout and Access?

November 5, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Lawyers gear up to monitor polling stations on Election Day to ensure voter fraud is limited and voter rights are protected. Jeffrey Brown talks to The Associated Press' Curt Anderson and Brennan Center for Justice's Michael Waldman on what to expect, especially in light of legal battles on early voting and new voter I.D. laws.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: As voters have lined up to vote early, we are already getting a taste of the legal issues, challenges and battles at polling places that could decide the election.

Jeffrey Brown has that.

JEFFREY BROWN: A number of voter identification laws were litigated in recent months, and largely put off by the courts to be decided after this election. But that’s hardly the end of it.

The campaigns, as well as outside groups, will have thousands of lawyers at polling stations and campaign headquarters ready to challenge any irregularities.

Here to walk us through all this are Curt Anderson, an Associated Press legal affairs writer based in Miami, and Michael Waldman, president of the BrennanCenter for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan public policy institute.

I want to start with you, Curt Anderson, because down in your neck of the woods, Southern Florida, over the weekend, a lot of problems with long lines and then a lawsuit filed. Bring us up to date. Where do things stand?

CURT ANDERSON, The Associated Press: It all began with reactions to the shortened number of early voting days in South Florida, well, the state as a whole.

There were very long lines. And the Democratic Party, some of its top officials had wanted to have the governor extend the early voting period another day. He refused to do so.

But, in South Florida, the larger counties decided on their own, the supervisors of elections, let’s go ahead and have people vote absentee as if it was an early vote, not exactly the same, but almost.

Well, in Miami, what happened on Sunday was the voting site became just overwhelmed with people. It closed down briefly. It opened back up again, and…

JEFFREY BROWN: Got very chaotic for a while.

CURT ANDERSON: It got very chaotic. There were people banging on the doors. It wasn’t a good scene.

But, at the end of the day, a lot of people did cast absentee votes in person. And then today, it was a much more orderly process. They were open from 9:00 to 5:00. They had hundreds of people in line. People were waiting 10, 15 minutes, not so bad.

So, at the end of it, in Miami-DadeCounty, about a third of the vote has already been cast. And this was part of the reason why.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Michael Waldman, I want to broaden it out nationally here. What is it that all those thousands of lawyers will be looking at? Give us a couple of examples. What’s going on?

MICHAEL WALDMAN, Brennan Center for Justice: Well, the good news from their perspective is that so many of the laws, as you said, that were passed last year and this year that changed voting laws, that made it harder to vote, the vast majority of those laws were blocked or postponed or blunted in some way.

But there is still at the polling place shenanigans or problems that could happen.

You could have voters who are in fact registered to vote showing up and being told in some way, hey, you know what? You’re not on the list. In those cases, voters need to try to make sure that their real records come up or cast what’s called a provisional ballot, which is counted later if there’s some decision made that the person is eligible to vote.

You see all kinds of disputes in the courts and at the polling places about those issues of who in fact is eligible to vote.

In the 1800s, Alexis de Tocqueville said, in America, every dispute ends up a lawsuit. And we have seen that over and over again the way we run elections in this country in a somewhat slapdash and easily manipulated way, where partisan politicians often control the mechanics of voting.

JEFFREY BROWN: Curt Anderson, you have been looking into this too. What other kinds of things that have you seen as either happening or potentially happening that lawyers are watching?

CURT ANDERSON: Well, potentially happening, there’s a big issue with regard to the poll watchers and monitors.

There’s a group that is connected to the Tea Party based in Houston called True the Vote which has been promising to bring thousands of monitors to various places to essentially what they say make sure that the vote goes correctly and the people who are actually eligible to vote do vote.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right, against voter fraud.

CURT ANDERSON: Yes.

However, there’s a lot of people on the side of sort of the voting rights, civil rights side of things who say that these poll watchers are going to be deployed in minority neighborhoods and places where, historically, there’s been issues with voters being intimidated or harassed or in some way perhaps not getting to the polls.

And so the monitors are going to be monitored by many of these voter access groups. There’s probably going to be quite a crowd.

And it will include lawyers. It could include Justice Department officials. They’re going to have over 700 observers out in various places, many of them targeted to areas that have historically been at issue, minority areas.

That’s one. Another one Michael brought up was the provisional ballot issue.

JEFFREY BROWN: Particularly in Ohio, right?

CURT ANDERSON: Particularly in Ohio.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

CURT ANDERSON: Ohio for a variety of reasons tends to vote a lot more provisional ballots than most other states. The predictions are somewhere between 200,000 and 300,000. Provisional ballot would be if you showed up at the polling place and said, well, you’re at your wrong polling place, you should be at this other place, and you say, well, I want to vote now, you would be allowed to vote on what’s called a provisional ballot, which would be counted later.

And in Ohio, it’s not counted for 10 days. There have been a number of issues in Ohio, including a current lawsuit over the paperwork that is filled out for these provisional ballots and whether or not that might cause more mistakes and more of them to be rejected, which if the election were very close, within what they call the margin of litigation, could really make a big difference in terms of the final count.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, Michael Waldman, these things would obviously play into especially close, close races in some of these battleground states and the potential for recounts of when and if such ballots were counted, right?

MICHAEL WALDMAN: That’s right.

A lot of states have automatic recount laws, which is that if they’re within a certain margin, usually around a half percentage point of the vote in a state, they have to go to a recall.

And as just been said, you’re — it’s exactly right that those provisional ballots in Ohio will not be counted, even be started to be counted until Nov. 17.

So, if Ohio is, as they say, the linchpin of deciding who is president, if it’s a very close race, we won’t really know until well after the election.

There’s a new wrinkle that’s just come up in the last few days, which is that it turns out that the state of Ohio has a very flawed way of checking people’s voter registration records to see if they’re really registered.

And a lot of voters who applied for absentee ballots who are eligible got letters saying, no, you’re not registered. You’re not registered. And it turned out they were.

And so there’s now a push to try to get the secretary of state to allow counties who do the counting to not just press one search button, but really double-check and triple-check before rejecting ballots and throwing people off.

Or you could have potentially thousands of people disenfranchised by typo, by mistake. And those are the kinds of things — especially, we’re seeing it in Ohio this year. Ohio is bidding hard to be the new Florida. But it’s a closely contested state for one reason.

JEFFREY BROWN: Michael, I just — I want to — Michael Waldman, I want to ask you about this because I know you have been following also the impact of Sandy.

So, briefly, in our last minute here, tell us about how that is impacting or potentially impacting voting.

MICHAEL WALDMAN: Well, as you can imagine, this devastating storm with all its loss of life and disruption of communities also threatens to disrupt the elections.

And you have in New York City, for example, between 20,000 and 40,000 people who are not living at home, who are homeless. And how are they going to vote?

Well, just late today, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order saying that if you are displaced, if you’re from a county that is displaced by the hurricane, you can go into any polling place in the state and pass what’s called an affidavit ballot. You can vote for president and senator principally. And that’s a terrific thing.

And in doing that, Governor Cuomo joined New Jersey, who did a similar thing.

Look, this is a bad situation. It’s making the best of it. At least some of those people will have the opportunity to vote.

And — but we could also see turnout rates be down pretty substantially in the Northeast, which could, of course, affect maybe not the electoral votes, but what the final outcome of the popular vote is.

So this hurricane wasn’t messing around when it came to messing with the election.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Michael Waldman of the BrennanCenter and Curt Anderson of the AP, thanks both very much.

CURT ANDERSON: Thank you.

MICHAEL WALDMAN: Thank you.

GWEN IFILL: We will be tracking voting across the country tomorrow on our NewsHour live blog, and pulling in images of people casting their ballots on a special Tumblr site.