We’re still more than five months from midterm elections, but already Republican voting restrictions are causing chaos in states across the South, and in some cases, blocking access to the ballot. The slew of problems, even in a recent series of low-profile elections, is raising fears that large numbers of voters could be disenfranchised this fall if the laws aren’t blocked before then. Because two of the states involved, Arkansas and North Carolina, are hosting tight Senate races this fall, it’s possible that the laws could even be decisive in helping Republicans gain total control of Congress. “The problems we’re seeing in places like Arkansas and North Carolina are only going to worsen in higher-turnout elections in November, when hundreds of thousands more voters will arrive at the polls,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “They demonstrate exactly why we’ve filed motions to put these laws on hold until they’ve been thoroughly vetted by the courts.”
This week, Arkansas’s voter ID law has been in the spotlight. During Tuesday’s primary, some poll workers reportedly quizzed voters on their personal information even after being shown ID, and used bar-code scanning machines to verify IDs – both of which go way beyond what the law allows. Even worse, under the law, absentee ballots submitted without ID aren’t counted. In one county, that’s led to better than 8 in 10 absentee voters being disenfranchised – without even being notified. In response to the problems, the state has largely shrugged its shoulders.
Then there’s North Carolina, which last year passed the nation’s most restrictive voting measure. The law’s ID requirement won’t be in effect until 2016. But groups monitoring the polls during the state’s primaries earlier month still reported plenty of cause for concern. They said the law’s provision that disqualifies votes cast in the wrong precinct caused major confusion. And they described the state’s campaign to inform voters about the coming ID requirement as haphazard and inconsistent. That leaves aside the law’s cuts to early voting and its elimination of same-day voter registration – both of which could have a major impact in a high turnout race.