With more than 120 million Americans expected to cast ballots for president this fall, the nation’s voting process seems more convoluted than ever and rife with potential for confusion come Election Day. Voting rules vary widely by state and sometimes by county, meaning some Americans can register the same day they vote, while others must do so weeks in advance. Some can mail in a ballot, while others must stand in line at a polling place that might be miles from home. Some who forget photo identification can simply sign an affidavit and have their ballot count, while others must return with their ID within a few days or their vote doesn’t matter. Fourteen states have new voting and registration rules in place for this election, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law. Legal challenges have led to a multitude of recent court rulings that have blocked or struck down some provisions and upheld or reinstated others, scrambling the picture further. The new rules and the rapidly shifting landscape have already caused confusion, and some experts fear problems on Nov. 8.
“You would think that by 2016 we would have gotten our act together, but in fact it seems things are as litigious and confusing as ever,” said Rick Hasen, an expert on election law and professor at the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
The battle over voting mirrors the larger battle for political power in the U.S.
While Democrats and Republicans have both supported efforts to expand access, particularly online registration, it’s largely been Republicans who have been pushing restrictive laws, such as those requiring voters to show photo identification before casting ballots.