On Tuesday, voters will go to the polls in what is expected to be a nail-bitingly close presidential election. Indeed, we may wake up Wednesday morning, as voters did in 2000 and 2004, not knowing who won. If we are extremely unlucky, the election will be so close that it will go to a recount and possibly to the courts. The state whose votes are pivotal to the election outcome – Ohio, Florida, who knows? – will see its election process go under a microscope with full dissection in real time over Twitter and Facebook. It would get very ugly very quickly.
If the election comes down to the wire in this way, and if Mitt Romney ekes out a win, then a series of election changes and administrative actions pursued by Republican legislatures and election officials, as well as challenges pursued by tea party activists, may prove to have given him the winning margin. While crass political calculation is part of the explanation for Republican pursuit of these tough new voting rules, there is also a deeper philosophical divide between Republicans and Democrats over the nature of voting and democracy, a divide that the most recent skirmishes in the voting wars have laid bare.
From stricter voter registration rules in Florida to cutbacks in early voting in Florida and Ohio, to purges of potential noncitizens from the voting rolls in Colorado and Florida, Republicans have pursued legislative and administrative changes that have made it marginally harder for voters to get a chance to cast their votes. On top of that, the tea party-affiliated “True the Vote” group and similar groups have been bringing challenges to voters’ eligibility across the country and have indicated their intention to send challengers or observers to Democratic areas on Election Day.
The burden of these Republican actions falls more heavily on poor and minority voters who are more likely to vote Democratic. These voters are less likely to register to vote, more likely to vote early, and less likely to have the time or ability to clear up a mistaken voter purge decision than other voters.