U.S. voters in 14 states are navigating new laws that critics say make it harder for lower-income and minority voters, who typically back Democrats, to cast ballots in the midterm elections. Advocacy groups across the country are gearing up to help voters contend with cutbacks in early voting and new state requirements for voter identification, which the mostly Republican sponsors say are necessary to combat voter fraud. Democrats and civil rights groups counter there is scant evidence of fraud, and say the measures are a Republican effort to depress turnout by Democratic-leaning demographic groups such as the young, poor and minorities. The laws are the latest in a wave of voting restrictions instituted by Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors since the party’s big election gains in 2010. Many are being used for the first time in a national election on Tuesday, after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 invalidated a section of the Voting Rights Act that required areas with a history of racial discrimination, mainly in the U.S. South, to get federal approval for changes to voting laws.
Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia have more stringent voter identification laws this year. Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee and Wisconsin have shortened early-voting periods ahead of Election Day on Nov. 4. Indiana and Kansas also have new laws in place related to ballot challenges and proof of citizenship.
In North Carolina, the reduction in early voting hours and the elimination of same-day voter registration that is popular with minority voters could impact Democratic Senator Kay Hagan’s re-election fight with Republican Thom Tillis, a key piece in the Republican push for a Senate majority.
High-profile governor’s races in Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas, and thousands of down-ballot races, also could be influenced by more restrictive election laws.