In North Carolina, early voting was cut by seven days. In Kansas, 22,000 people were stopped from registering to vote because they lacked proof of citizenship. And in Texas, Democrats say the country’s toughest voter ID law contributed to a one-term congressman’s losing a tight race to his Republican rival. After an Election Day that featured a wave of new voting restrictions across the country, data and details about who cast a ballot are being picked over to see if tighter rules swayed the outcomes of any races or contributed to the lowest voter turnout in 72 years. Since 2011, a dozen Republican-led states have passed strict voter ID requirements, some blocked by courts, measures that Republicans describe as needed to increase confidence in elections and critics call the modern equivalent of a poll tax, intended to suppress turnout by Democratic voters. Few are arguing that the laws drastically affected the overall results in a year that produced sweeping Republican victories, or that they were the dominant factor in voter participation. Although some Democrats claim the new laws may have swung close elections this month, voting experts caution that it is too soon to tell.
At the least, however, the country is in the midst of a broad experiment with voting restrictions at a time of already depressed voting rates. The trend is likely to accelerate with the 2016 election, when new hurdles are scheduled to go into effect and with Republicans taking control of nine new state legislative chambers on Election Day. Nevada, where the party flipped both houses, may become the latest state with a photo ID law.
Republican activists dispute the argument that ID laws limit voting and say Democrats are sounding the alarm to inspire their base. The issue is complicated because academic efforts to measure if restrictive laws depress turnout have produced mixed results.
In Texas, Democratic officials said the state’s voter ID law was a large part of the reason that turnout was among the lowest in the country this year. Supporters of Representative Pete Gallego, who lost a House race in West Texas by just 2,400 votes, or 2 percent, blamed the ID law, which a federal judge said disenfranchised up to 600,000 voters statewide who did not have the proper documents. “Republicans counted on voter ID suppressing Democratic-leaning minority turnout by a couple of points,” said Anthony Gutierrez, Mr. Gallego’s campaign manager. “That appears to be exactly what happened, and in our race it was enough to change the outcome.”