As most legislative work around the country came to a standstill over the July 4th holiday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder made headlines last week when he broke with the Republican Party to veto a law that would have tightened Michigan’s current “voter ID” law, just a few months ahead of Election Day. The move is an indication that despite the intense anxiety about the wave of voter ID laws, which place new restrictions on voters before they can cast a ballot, the legislation is facing tough challenges even before being enacted. Opponents have found a variety of means to mute the impact of such legislation. Republicans backing the laws, which have passed in 11 states in the past two years alone, insist that the measures are meant to curb voter fraud and are commonsense requirements that shouldn’t prove to be too onerous for any legitimately eligible voter. But Democrats see a more sinister design in the measures — as part of a broader GOP effort to rig elections in its favor by suppressing constituencies that tend to vote Democratic: minorities, low-income voters, students, and even women. That impression was fueled recently when Republican Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, highlighted the partisan impact of the state’s new voting restrictions. “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done,” Turzai said to applause at a Republican State Committee meeting.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that as many as 11 percent of voters do not have the government-issued photo IDs that are the center of much of the legislation, and that as many as 5 million voters could be impacted by the most recent spate of legislation. “People don’t realize that these voter ID laws aren’t the reasonable ID laws that we’ve seen in the past,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan arm of the New York University School of Law that has been involved in lawsuits challenging the new laws. “These are far more restrictive, and these will exclude large number of eligible voters, and that’s a much bigger deal than any of the kinds of measures that we’ve seen before.”