* New voting laws could spur new wave of lawsuits
* Laws that have been struck down could affect Nov. 6 vote
* Appeals still pending in several states
By Deborah Charles
WASHINGTON, Sept 12 (Reuters) - The campaigns of President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, are preparing for what could be a series of legal battles over new U.S. voting laws after the Nov. 6 election - especially if the result of the presidential race is close.
The campaigns and political parties are lining up lawyers for what would amount to a new wave of litigation surrounding election laws that have been approved by Republican-led legislatures in more than a dozen states since 2010.
Some of the laws involve requiring voters to produce photo identification. Others curtail early-voting periods that are designed to help working-class people cast ballots if they can't make it to the polls on Election Day. Still others have imposed strict requirements on groups that conduct voter-registration drives.
Republicans have said the laws are aimed largely at preventing voter fraud. But Democrats, civil rights advocates and other critics say their true purpose is to suppress voting among minorities and other groups that tend to vote for Democrats.
Dozens of legal battles already are being waged over such laws in courts across the nation, and judges have tossed out a few of the laws in politically divided states that could be crucial in deciding what has been a close presidential race between Obama and Romney.
Among those states: Florida, where new requirements for voter registration drives have led to a dramatic decline in people registering to vote; and Ohio, where a judge rejected a law aimed at cutting back the state's early-voting period.
But even in states where courts have tossed out new voting laws, the laws already may have had an impact on the November election - and therefore created the basis for new litigation, analysts say.
In Florida, for example, 11,365 people have registered as Democratic voters during the past 13 months, compared with an average of 209,425 for the same periods before the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, according to the Florida Times Union.
Meanwhile, 128,039 Republicans have registered to vote in Florida during the past 13 months, up from an average of 103,555 during the same period in 2004 and 2008, the Times Union said.
The numbers could reflect an electorate that is more enthusiastic about Republican candidates than Democrats.
But Democrats note that their supporters often register through groups such the League of Women Voters, whose registration drives were dramatically limited by the new law before a court tossed it aside two weeks ago. Republicans, on the other hand, tend to register directly with election boards.
That disparity could set the stage for legal challenges if, for example, Romney defeats Obama by a narrow margin in Florida, analysts say.
"If the races are close there will be legal battles after (Nov. 6) ... an explosion of post-election litigation," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's law school.
"This is in part because there is so much that is left unaddressed and left open to interpretation and manipulation ... that it leaves room for litigation afterwards." Weiser said.
'ARMIES OF LAWYERS'
Since the 2010 mid-term elections, when Republicans gained control of 20 state legislatures, 11 states have passed strict voter ID laws.
Tougher voting laws have been passed since early 2011 in 19 states, including new laws that shorten the early voting period and make it more difficult to register to vote.
Election law specialist Rick Hasen said challenging the rules governing elections has become a key part of any major candidate's political strategy, and said many campaigns now involve "armies of lawyers."
"The amount of election litigation has more than doubled from before 2000," said Hasen, who has written a book, "The Voting Wars" on how partisan battles have moved into the courtroom since the dispute over the presidential election of 2000 went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore.
According to the Brennan Center, 17 states have passed voting restrictions that could affect the 2012 election.
Those states, which include key battlegrounds of Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Virginia, Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia, account for 218 electoral votes - nearly 80 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
Federal and state courts have ruled recently on several new laws related to voter ID requirements, early voting, how voters can be registered and how provisional ballots - used when a voter's eligibility is unclear on Election Day - can be counted.
A state judge in Pennsylvania rejected an effort to block the state's voter identification law, which civil rights groups say discriminates against minority voters. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments in the appeal on Thursday.
The U.S. Justice Department also is reviewing whether the Pennsylvania law complies with federal voting rights laws.
If Pennsylvania's law is upheld, the state will have to find a way to get the required photo identification to about 750,000 registered voters who the state says lack the kind of ID they'll need on Election Day.
That could lead to a raft of lawsuits after the election, if voters do not have enough time to get the right ID or if election officials do not implement new laws uniformly across the state, Hasen said.
"If you write a play you wouldn't premier it on Broadway," Hasen said. "If you implement a brand new law in time for the presidential election, it could just be bad."
Another voter ID law, Wisconsin's, was blocked by two judges. The attorney general has asked the state's Supreme Court to reinstate the law before November, when Wisconsin - home to Romney's vice-presidential running mate, Paul Ryan - could be a crucial state in the election.
In Texas, a federal court has blocked a state law that would require voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot, saying it would unfairly affect minorities. The state has appealed but a court decision will not come before the election.
In Ohio, another key state in the presidential race, the state attorney general has appealed a judge's ruling that overturned limits on early voting. Ohio had passed laws that would allow early voting in person to begin on Oct. 2 but would cut off early voting three days before the election to everyone except members of the military.
Also on HuffPost:
You're an average voter in Pennsylvania. The night before Election Day, your wallet goes missing, leaving you without immediate access to any of the identification you'll need to vote at your local precinct the following morning. This would be a problem under <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#PA" target="_hplink">Pennsylvania's proposed photo ID law</a>, since <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/02/pennsylvania-voter-id-ruling_n_1919187.html" target="_hplink">blocked by a state judge</a>. While many people in this situation may have backup forms of identification, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/pennsylvania-voter-id-law_n_1652469.html" target="_hplink">studies have shown</a> that a significant percentage of would-be voters don't. The state's safeguard against the immediate disenfranchisement of people in this situation would be a provisional ballot cast on the day of the election. But this doesn't mean your vote counts, yet. Anyone who casts a provisional ballot is required to "appear in person at the county board of elections" within six days of the vote to provide proof that their ballot was valid. If you're able to take time away from your job to do this, the process still requires a would-be voter to either show up with valid ID -- a replacement driver's license <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/fees/index.shtml" target="_hplink">would cost $36</a> and considerable time -- or to <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/voterid/VoterAffirmationNoProofofID.pdf" target="_hplink">sign an affirmation</a> that you are indigent and not able to afford the fees associated with acquiring a photo ID. Even if you make a rapid and somewhat expensive turnaround to get a replacement ID -- or alternatively swear under oath that you are too poor to pay for such a document -- there is no guarantee that your vote will end up counting. Many elections are largely decided before provisional voters have a chance to verify their validity, which could serve to discouraging them from following up with election officials or leave them effectively disenfranchised. In 2008, <a href="http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/2008 Election Administration and Voting Survey EAVS Report.pdf" target="_hplink">only 61.8 percent</a> of all provisional ballots cast were fully counted. If strict photo ID measures were implemented, however, the number of provisional ballots submitted would likely increase, as would the requirements for voters hoping to make them count. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Eleven percent of eligible voters say they lack current government-issued photo IDs, a <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">survey</a> on the potential impact of voter ID laws found. You live in Georgia and you're one of them. Like 66,515 other Georgians, according to a <a href="http://brennan.3cdn.net/773c569439b50452e0_kzm6bo5l6.pdf" target="_hplink">recent study</a> from the Brennan Center for Justice, you also lack vehicle access and live more than 10 miles from an office that issues state ID. As a registered voter who's skipped the past few elections, you decide you'll vote this year. But you spend your life working multiple jobs to provide for your family, not tuned in to a news cycle that may have told you about a voter ID law that changed the requirements. If you were aware of the measure, you'd know that you have to get yourself to a state office during business hours to procure a photo ID in order to vote. According to the Brennan Center, these facilities are often only open part time, especially in areas with the highest concentration of people of color and in poverty. While the state does offer a free photo ID initiative, the Brennan Center points out that many of the offices provide confusing or inaccurate information about what Georgians need to do to get one. This may be a tough task as you juggle a strenuous work schedule with other commitments -- and that's assuming you're aware of the requirement. But you're not, so you head to your voting precinct on election day with no access to an acceptable form of identification and vote with a provisional ballot. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office, which at this point wouldn't be doable. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
As an elderly Tennessee resident, you've made a decades-long Election Day habit of traveling to your local polling place and exercising your franchise. It's an important day for you, and it gives you the rare opportunity to leave your house, where you live alone. For a number of years, you've had an identification card that allows you to vote. But thanks to the state's strict new voter ID law, that document will no longer be sufficient. Reports <a href="http://www.wbir.com/news/article/185824/2/Tennessee-voter-ID-law-awaits-effect-on-seniors" target="_hplink">found</a> that 230,000 Tennesseans older than 60 possess driver's licenses that don't have photos on them. Such ID will not be accepted at polling places in November. While the state has agreed to issue photo IDs free to anyone who asks, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/tennessee-voter-id-law-program_n_1669323.html" target="_hplink">recent study</a> found that only a tiny percentage of potential targets have applied. Perhaps that's because people like you weren't aware of exactly how the change was going to affect them. Maybe you weren't even aware of the change. Poll workers tell you that you can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. You'll <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#tn" target="_hplink">have until</a> "the close of business on the second business day after the election" to find an applicable piece of identification -- which you don't have -- and present it to a designated elections official. Whether it's your lack of an acceptable form of identification, the difficulty in finding transportation back to the elections official, or the prospect of having to go through the drain of the entire process again, you're discouraged, and give up. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a resident of Kansas in your early 60s, fully expecting to vote in November. Your driver's license is your primary form of ID, but you rarely carry it anymore. You don't drive and you haven't traveled abroad in years, leaving your passport expired or lost. In the months before the election, you changed addresses, and for some reason never received a notification from the state reminding you that your license had expired. On the day of the election, you head to your polling place, unaware that you're about to be told your license is expired and therefore invalid according to the state's new voter ID law (Kansans over the age of 65 can use expired IDs, but you're not there yet). You're given a provisional ballot and informed that <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#Kansas" target="_hplink">you must</a> now "provide a valid form of identification to the county election officer in person or provide a copy by mail or electronic means before the meeting of the county board of canvassers." While Kansas says it has <a href="http://www.wycokck.org/Internet2010ElectionBanner.aspx?menu_id=1092&banner=27765&id=26946" target="_hplink">historically counted</a> around 70 percent of its provisional ballots, this year provides a different landscape. The next steps can be somewhat difficult, and with the enacting of the state's photo ID law, the use of such ballots will undoubtedly become more commonplace. Faced with disenfranchisement, you must now race against the clock to have your vote included. With no other acceptable forms of ID available, you go about the process of renewing your license. <a href="http://www.ksrevenue.org/renewingdl.html" target="_hplink">According to the state</a>, this requires you to make your way to a state office, where you'll have to provide a number of identifying documents and pay the fee. By the time you can find someone to chauffeur you through this process -- public transportation is complex and unreliable where you live, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2012/07/24/2418365/voter-id-law-burdens-wichita.html" target="_hplink">even if you're in an urban center</a> -- most of the major election results have been announced on the news. You decide the undertaking isn't worth the time. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a first-time voter in Indiana who <a href="https://forms.in.gov/Download.aspx?id=9341" target="_hplink">registered to vote</a> at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles using your Social Security number, a process that also <a href="http://www.in.gov/bmv/2339.htm" target="_hplink">required you</a> to get a state identification card, which you placed in your wallet. As a recent high school graduate who commutes with other workers to your full time job on a farm, you rarely need to present identification, so you didn't even bother to get a new ID card when it went missing from your locker a few weeks before the election. You risk potential firing when you travel to your polling place with other members of your community on voting day, but you're intent on participating in your first election. Without valid photo ID, however, you don't get to pull the lever. Under Indiana's new photo ID law, you're instead required to fill out a provisional ballot. But you're told you'll still need to jump through additional hoops that could prove too demanding. Now tasked with making visits during business hours to both the Indiana BMV to <a href="http://www.dmv.com/in/indiana/drivers-license-replacement" target="_hplink">get a replacement ID</a>, and then to the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#in" target="_hplink">county elections board</a> to verify your ballot, you decide keeping your job is more important than voting. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Pennsylvania, Part II
Viviette Applewhite was the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new voter ID measure. She's a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who has voted regularly for decades. She claimed she didn't have access to any of the documents she'd need to vote. With no driver's license and no birth certificate, needed to get a photo ID, Applewhite said she'd be disenfranchised by the law. And she wasn't the only one. A <a href="http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/applewhiteetalvcommonwealt/voteridclients.htm" target="_hplink">number of other plantiffs in the ACLU case</a> against Pennsylvania's photo ID law claimed they had been unsuccessful in attempts to get copies of their birth certificates and other papers due to complexities in the state's record-keeping. Most claimed the measure would take away their vote. The law has since been blocked for this election cycle.
Georgia, Part II
You're a longtime resident of Georgia, but you've just recently returned home from a six-month out-of-town assignment from your job. You get into town on the Monday before Election Day. Most of your possessions are still being shipped from halfway across the country. Old friends invite you to a bar to catch up, but in the process of removing your driver's license from your wallet to present to a bouncer, it cracks in half, leaving it officially invalidated. Without a valid license, you won't be able to cast a ballot the next day. You'd renew it and choke down the $20 or more fee <a href="http://www.dmv.org/ga-georgia/id-cards.php#Replacing-an-ID-Card-" target="_hplink">for the replacement</a>, but the documents you need to present are in the moving truck. An election official informs you that you can fill out a provision ballot on Election Day. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days afterward to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office. Either you're telling the moving company to drive twice the speed limit for the next 48 hours straight, or you're accepting your disenfranchisement. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>