With Republicans taking control of most U.S. capitols this year and a presidential race looming, states have passed the most election-related laws since 2003 in a push to tighten voting rules. Forty-seven states have enacted 285 election-related laws this year, and 60 percent were in states with Republican governors, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Democrats are pushing back by vetoing photo- identification laws in five states and trying to repeal other voting laws in Maine and Ohio, where President Barack Obama’s campaign is promoting the effort.
It’s the “battle before the battle” as both parties fight for what they think are the most advantageous and fairest rules, said Doug Chapin, director of an elections-administration program at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
“We’re at a level of activity that I don’t think I’ve ever seen,” Chapin said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got the combination of a fiercely divided nation, uncertainty about what the rules are and a belief that every single vote counts.”
The hottest legislation has been voter identification, according to the NCSL. At the year’s start, only Georgia and Indiana required a photo ID and offered no alternative way to have votes counted in its absence. Opponents say such laws discourage voting by the poor and black people, who traditionally back Democrats. Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Tennessee andTexas enacted or amended laws requiring photo ID this year, and 34 states in all considered such bills, the Denver-based organization said.
Republicans who after the 2010 elections took over legislatures and governor’s offices — they now control 29 — have had more opportunity to act on election issues, Sean Greene, research manager with the Pew Center on the States’ election initiatives, said in a telephone interview. The issue divides Republicans concerned about fraud and Democrats interested in access, he said.
Democrats, including former Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, say the trend is a coordinated effort by Republicans.
“It’s a huge mistake for any party to try to influence or craft the rules in such a way that it’s meant to disadvantage one group or advantage another unfairly,” Brunner said in an interview at her law office in Columbus.