How New Voting Restrictions May Have Affected the Midterm Elections

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Even after elections, concerns continue about whether the outcome may have been directly impacted by voting restrictions in some states.

According to Wendy R. Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, new changes “will make it harder for millions of Americans to participate,” via The New York Times. “But the problems of disenfranchisement don’t show up in a visible way,” Weiser said. “It’s people who don’t show up, or someone’s who’s turned away.”

Georgia was one of the biggest cases of concern for the impact of voting restrictions. The New Georgia Project was responsible for registering 85,000 of the 800,000 unregistered African-American, Hispanic and Asian eligible voters in Georgia this past year. However, after those registrations took place, the Project’s records were subpoenaed by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R), and it was accused of voter registration fraud.

The investigation found only 25 fraudulent forms, but as a result of the process, nearly 40,000 registrations have not shown up on the voting rolls, according to the New Georgia Project. The organization went to court to demand that the Secretary of State account for these missing registrations, but Judge Christopher Brasher ruled against the group. “A Republican-appointed judge has backed the Republican Secretary of State to deny the right to vote to a largely African American and Latino population. It is outrageous that Georgians’ rights are being ignored,” Francys Johnson, president of the Georgia Conference of the NAACP, said in a statement.

“The only recourse the judge has allowed for these voters is provisional ballots and it’s our mission to make sure every provisional ballot cast is counted,” Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams, founder of the New Georgia Project, told The Hill. “My focus as head of the New Georgia Project is making sure that every provisional vote that’s cast that’s valid is counted and if it means going to court to do that we will certainly do that.”

Those who thought they were registered in Georgia also faced difficulty when the website of the secretary of state crashed for hours on Tuesday. The site tells people if they are registered and shows their voting site. Georgia voters were then forced to call Election Protection, a national hotline, to find out what to do. And some certainly did have a hard time voting because Kemp’s actions against the New Georgia project. The New York Times cites that Diamond Walton, 18, was on that list of unprocessed applicants after registering in Muscogee County in August. Walton received a registration card in October, but on Nov. 4, when she arrived at her polling station to find that she wasn’t on the rolls. Walton was told to fill out a provisional ballot, but instead contacted the New Georgia Project, which found her name on a “supplemental” list.

Not only did the New Georgia Project register minority voters, but also engaged younger voters, with 60% of the voters it registered being under 35. “If we don’t get them engaged, if we have a chilling effect on their very first time to vote, they may never come back to the polls,” Abrams told Rachel Maddow. Voters like Walton may be very frustrated by the experience they had Tuesday.

Beyond Georgia, voting rights remains a big issue for many states. The New York Times reported that there “were problems at a number of polling places around the country that did not appear to be related to partisan agendas.” Florida, which will perhaps never lose its reputation for voting troubles, saw technical malfunctions and confusion about voting sites in Broward County. These problems led Charlie Crist, the Democratic candidate for governor, to make an emergency request for a two-hour extension of voting hours, which was denied by a Florida judge.

North Carolina, which had what seemed to be a tight race for its senate seat for a while, also saw troubles as voters who showed up to the wrong polling station were turned away. Last year, North Carolina passed new restrictions, which included “cutting early voting by a week, eliminating same-day registration during the early voting period, prohibiting the counting of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct,” according to The Nation, that led to more than 450 voters being unable to vote in the May primaries. According to the Nation, 900,000 North Carolinians voted early during the last midterm election, with over 200,000 casting ballots during the now-eliminated first week of early voting, 20,000 using same-day registration, and 7,000 casting out-of-precinct ballots.

Kansas has also adopted new restrictions, including a stringent voter-ID law, which led to a decrease of 2-3% in turnout, according the Government Accountability Office, as well as a proof of citizenship requirement for registration, which resulted in 23,000 voters having their registration status suspended. Texas also sported a new strict voter-ID law as a result of the Supreme Court’s changes to the Voting Rights Act in 2013, which allowed states freedom from federal approval when changing voting laws. That exact policy was previously struck down by a federal district judge, who cited evidence that “more than 600,000 registered voters in the state, mainly poor, black and Hispanic, did not have the specified documents.”

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