Voting Limits Caused Less Chaos This Year Than Epic Lines

There was confusion about a voter ID law in Pennsylvania, widespread use of provisional ballots in Ohio and problems for college students voting in Florida on Election Day. But the systematic, widespread voter disenfranchisement that some voting rights advocates had feared didn’t come to fruition in 2012.Instead, advocates said the largest issue for voters on Election Day was the problem of long lines at overwhelmed polling places, including locations in several key swing states like Virginia, Ohio, Nevada and Florida. President Barack Obama even raised the issue in his acceptance speech early Wednesday morning, thanking voters who “waited in line for a very long time” and adding “we have to fix that.”

Voting rights advocates suggested this week that preventative lawsuits had mostly neutered the effects of restrictive voting laws created in recent years. Lawsuits filed by the Justice Department and civil rights organizations prevented voter ID laws from going into effect in Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, several less-restrictive laws were allowed to go forward in states like Virginia and New Hampshire.

While the Election Protection coalition said there was widespread confusion among voters and poll workers about what exactly Pennsylvania’s voter ID does, it wasn’t the dominant issue on Tuesday. The coalition’s hotline solicited hundreds of complaints regarding enforcement of the voter ID law, but many were from voters who wrongly believed that poll workers were not allowed to ask them for photo identification.

“Voter ID has been the story for the last two years basically, but I think partly because of actions that people took to knock those laws out, it wasn’t the story of the 2012 election itself,” Eric Marshall, co-director of Election Protection, told TPM on Wednesday morning.

Instead, advocates pointed to the long lines as a form of voter disenfranchisement, noting they often happened at polling locations with heavily minority populations. Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the lines in some parts of the country “are longer than the lines in Baghdad and Kabul,” according to Reuters. The Miami Herald reported that some Florida voters remained in line at polling places until 1 a.m., hours after the polls were scheduled to close.

Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater said in a statement that long lines were “partially a result of voters and poll workers alike having to navigate our nation’s complicated labyrinth of voting laws, which have largely been erected to make voting more difficult, more confusing, and more intimidating.”

Election Protection’s Marshall said that one easy way for state officials to prevent long lines on Election Day is to extend early voting. Reforming the country’s antiquated voter registration process would greatly reduce voting wait times, Marshall stated.

“We get so many reports of voters who think they’re registered and then show up on Election Day and they’re not on the poll books,” Marshall said. He said it takes time to process each one of those voters and figure out whether they should cast a provisional ballot, leading to even longer lines at the polling place.

True the Vote, a Tea Party-affiliated organization based in Texas that wanted to dispatch 1 million poll watchers across the country, also didn’t turn out the be the threat voting rights activists feared. Poll watchers trained by True the Vote were banned from polling places in Ohio. It wasn’t immediately clear how many were actually on the ground.

“There are sporadic accounts in our database of True the Vote presence, but I think voter determination is so strong out there that they just haven’t had the impact that they desired,” Barbara Arnwine, president of the Lawyers’ Committee, told reporters at Election Protection’s temporary headquarters at a Washington, D.C. law firm on Election Day. “I think this is good, because it is good for our nation to know that these kinds of schemes do not succeed. We do run around and allow people to be the unhooded Klan in 2012.”