Take two deadlocked races in a battleground state that Republicans and Democrats alike say will play a huge role in who wins the White House and controls the U.S. Senate. Blend in a new voter identification law and the possibility of thousands of additional provisional ballots that won’t be counted for days. Whip it to a froth with unprecedented political cash supporting get-out-the-vote efforts and eleventh-hour dirty tricks, and there’s your recipe for a lingering election nightmare. Virginia and 10 other states either enacted new laws or tightened existing ones in the past two years that compel voters to bring identification with them to their polling places, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In eight of those states, Republicans are governors. Virginia’s law takes effect for the first time this fall.
Republicans say it’s a commonsense way to prevent fraudulent attempts by nonresidents, those who aren’t citizens or disqualified felons to vote. However, supporters could document only a handful of such cases, not widespread or systematic abuse. Democrats generally opposed the laws, some going so far as to call them Republican voter-suppression efforts passed to keep voters on the margins — the elderly, poor, minorities and young people who historically tend to vote Democratic — from going to the polls. It’s more than coincidental, Democrats argue, that Republicans muscled the strictures through only after a huge turnout of new voters in the 2008 Democratic tide led by President Barack Obama.