The 2000 presidential election was thrown into turmoil by antiquated paper ballots in Florida that made voters’ intentions difficult to decipher. In 2004, hours-long lines at polling places kept thousands of Ohio voters from casting ballots. In 2012, new restrictions on voting enacted by state legislatures around the country have the potential to sway the presidential race by making it harder for citizens to vote, election experts say. “Here in Ohio, as in many other parts of the country, we have seen rules adopted in the past decade — and especially in the past year — that make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote and have their votes counted,” Ohio State University election law expert Daniel P. Tokaji told a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearing earlier this year in Cleveland. The restrictions include curbs on organizations that register new voters, requirements that voters present photo IDs to vote and proof of citizenship to register, cutbacks in early voting periods and limits on voting by felons who have been freed from prison.
Defenders of the laws say they’re needed to combat fraud and preserve the election system’s integrity. Critics contend they’re unnecessary because fraud is practically non-existent. They say that Republican-dominated state legislatures around the country adopted them to reduce voter turnout among groups that traditionally back Democrats. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice says the changes could significantly affect the presidential race. States that have cut back on voting rights account for 185 electoral votes, more than two thirds of the 270 needed to win the presidency.