What Effect, If Any, Did Voter ID Laws Have On The Election?
by Suevon Lee, ProPublica.
Elaine Schmottlach has been a ballot clerk in the small southeastern New Hampshire town of Nottingham — population, 4,785 — for the last 25 years. Yet when it came time for her to vote on Nov. 6, she had to show valid photo identification as required under a new state law.
Schmottlach refused and submitted a challenged voter affidavit instead.
“My view is this is a horrendous law,” she told ProPublica. “I absolutely detest it. I hated having to ask my best friend to show an ID to prove that she is who she is.”
Schmottlach’s act of defiance didn’t have much effect — this time. Her vote still counted, she wasn’t handed a provisional ballot and she wasn’t required to return to the poll with ID. But that could change in future elections under New Hampshire’s plans to phase in the new law.
In the months leading up to the election, voter ID laws were seen as the biggest threat to voter turnout: More than 30 states have passed such laws, which require voters to provide some type of identification at the polls (see our previous explainer).
But many of these laws, particularly the ones requiring strict photo identification, met setbacks ahead of the election. A state judge ruled in October that Pennsylvania’s law couldn’t be implemented this election, while federal judges refused to allow similar measures take effect this year in Texas and South Carolina.
A week before the election, the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that “for the overwhelming majority of those whose rights were most at risk, the ability to vote will not be at issue on November 6.”
Experts agree that much-assailed voter ID laws were less an issue in this election than limited early-voting hours, lengthy ballots and precincts shuttered after Hurricane Sandy. These issues contributed to long wait times, prompting some to simply throw up their hands and give up on voting.
“Of all the issues relating to voting rules, voter ID got the most attention but was probably the least significant, mainly because we didn’t have it in Pennsylvania,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California-Irvine who specializes in election law.
In Pennsylvania, where some feared the state’s continuing efforts to advertise the new law would confuse voters, election officials were required to ask voters for ID , but were not allowed to prevent anyone from casting a ballot for failure to produce one.
“On November 6, it was a dry run just as it was in the (April 24) primary,” said Ellen Kaplan, vice president and policy director at the Committee of Seventy, a non-partisan voter education group in Philadelphia. “We don’t know how many people might have been confused and didn’t show up. Among the people that did show up, there was certainly some confusion out there. But I wouldn’t characterize it as so overwhelming that it disrupted the voting process.”
In December, a state judge is expected to hear arguments to permanently block the controversial law.