Looking to capitalize on their historic gains last year, Republican lawmakers in several states are rewriting their election laws in ways that could make it more difficult for Democrats to win.
They have curbed early voting, rolled back voting rights for ex-felons and passed stricter voter ID laws. Taken together, the measures could have a significant and negative effect on President Obama’s reelection efforts if they keep young people and minorities away from the polls. As the primary season kicks into gear, Republican presidential hopefuls are hitting the road and meeting voters in Iowa , New Hampshire and other early primary states.
“It all hits at the groups that had higher turnout and higher registration in 2008,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, a civil rights lawyer who co-directs the Advancement Project, which has been tracking the new regulations.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering the latest, and perhaps most potent, legislation, a measure that would divvy up electoral votes by congressional district rather than use the winner-takes-all approach. The change would almost ensure a net gain of 20 to 24 GOP electoral votes in the 2012 presidential election.
“This is a very straightforward attempt to more closely conform the Electoral College process . . . with the will of the people,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.
He and Republican legislators in other states say the changes are necessary to prevent voter fraud and to make elections more fair. But voting rights groups and Democrats have decried the measures as attempts to suppress votes and swing elections.
“It just seems like a partisan setup [that is] all about who is going to be in the White House in 2012,” said Browne-Dianis, whose group has issued a report arguing that the vote among young people and minorities is being suppressed. “This really is the worst rollback of voting rights that we’ve seen in a century.”
This year, more than 30 states debated changes to their voting laws. A dozen passed more restrictive rules requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although Democratic governors in four states vetoed them. Florida and Ohio will cut nearly in half the number of days for early voting, and Florida lawmakers reversed rules that had made it easier for former felons to vote.