Partisan legal showdowns in battleground states over a spate of new voting laws could turn the 2012 elections into a repeat of the 2000 presidential vote recount saga, political experts say. “Whenever you change the rules by enacting new laws, it triggers a round of litigation. I don’t think we’ll see an end to this anytime soon,” said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor. “It could come down to the states counting of absentee ballots. … We could see a replay of the 2000 election, where we don’t have a winner for weeks.” This year’s fight has gotten ugly, especially in the hotly contested states of Florida and Pennsylvania, where there are high-profile fights over new voter identification laws, and Ohio, where President Barack Obama’s and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s campaigns are locked in a showdown over early voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a legal think tank at the New York University School of Law that has criticized the increase in what it sees as prohibitive voting laws, 16 states have passed measures “that have the potential to impact the 2012 election.” The endgame, political experts say, is all about parties crafting laws to help ensure that their side wins.
In Ohio, for example, the GOP-led state legislature recently nixed the three-day early voting window before Election Day for everyone but members of the military and people living overseas. Minority voters typically turn out in higher numbers during early voting, political experts say. According to CNN national exit polling data, those who served in the military voted 54% for Republican Sen. John McCain and 44% for Obama in the 2008 election. The Obama team cried foul over the law change and sued. A court is expected to rule before the elections.
Last month, the Justice Department launched a formal investigation into whether Pennsylvania’s voter law — another Republican-led effort — requiring a photo ID discriminates against minorities, and the agency demanded that state elections officials produce detailed documents within 30 days. Republicans are “trying to suppress the vote for partisan gain,” said Judith Browne Dianis, a voting rights attorney and co-director of Advancement Project, a civil rights organization representing 38 plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania’s voter ID law.