10/19/2012 1:55:00 PM
To: Interested Parties
From: Stephanie Cutter and Bob Bauer
Re: Update on Obama for America's Voter Protection and Voter Education Efforts
Date: Friday, October 19, 2012
In our democracy, the right to vote is fundamental, and Obama for America is committed to
doing everything possible to protect this right for every American.
With less than three weeks to go before Election Day and with early voting already underway in
many key battleground states, we have seen an intensified interest among the news media in
attacks by some Republican and right wing groups on voters’ basic rights, as well the impact of
changes in election laws in various states, particularly those changes enacted under the banner of
“voter ID”. While we are vigorously monitoring any changes in the law and challenge those that
burden the right to vote or equal access to the polls, it is critical that both voters and the news
media have accurate information about what they can expect this year at the polls.
Contrary to some reports, there have not been far-reaching and significant changes to voter ID
laws in the battleground states since 2008. In states like North Carolina, Iowa, and Michigan,
proposed changes were rejected and did not become law; in others states like Ohio, New
Hampshire, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, legal challenges have proven highly successful in
turning back unconstitutional attacks on voting rights. The same trend can be seen outside the
battleground states, where we have also seen a spate of victories across the country, won by
organizations and voters challenging these assaults on the franchise.
We will continue to watch developments closely between now and Election Day, and we will
take action as necessary, but we’re also focused on making sure that every American has the
information she needs to make her voice heard and is empowered to exercise her right to vote.
We don’t look at voter protection as a purely legal program – voter protection is as much about
empowering voters with the right information as it is having lawyers at polling locations. That’s
why for months we have been aggressively making sure that voters across the country fully
understand their rights and they know exactly what their voting laws require of them, how and
where to vote and what they need to bring. We’ve developed voter education literature, “Pledge
to Vote” commitment cards and even an online, one-stop-shop for state-specific voting
Our aggressive and all-inclusive Early Vote strategy allows us to detect any illegal or unlawful
attempts to prevent voters from casting their ballots, to assist election officials in the effective
and efficient administration of the laws and to educate voters on the accessibility of voting. The
following memo lays out summaries of the current voting landscape in each battleground state,
including changes to voting laws and what the practical impact of those changes will be on
voters’ access in 2012.
The Voting Landscape in Battleground States
Even though over 33 states introduced legislation to alter election laws, the reality is that in
Colorado the election laws have not changed that much since 2008. Where the laws have
changed they have been expansive, not restrictive. Previously, Colorado had some of the most
detailed third party voter registration fine structures for missing restrictive voter registration
drive deadlines. Just this year the Colorado legislature enacted a law that removed those overly
restrictive fines and there has been an increase in the number of acceptable forms of
identification to vote.
Also this year, Colorado’s Secretary of State Scott Gessler proposed a rule that would give his
office the power to hold hearings and require voters suspected of being non-citizens to prove
their eligibility to vote. After a coalition of voting rights organizations held Secretary Gessler
accountable in the press, Secretary Gessler changed course and said that no hearings would be
held and postponed any further rulemaking until after the election. With the exception of a list of
141 alleged non-citizens, none of the remaining 4000 people who initially received a letter from
Secretary Gessler’s office need to provide proof of citizenship or respond to the letter, and their
names will not be removed from the voting rolls.
In Florida, the election law landscape is not all that different from 2008. Even though the Florida
legislature passed an election law omnibus bill in 2011that initially altered the state’s election
laws, in August, a federal judge issued a ruling lifting some of the onerous voter registration
reporting requirements and the 48 hour turnaround time on registration forms. As a result, more
third party organizations – such as Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters – have
resumed registering voters in Florida and Obama for America has aggressively identified legal
routes to increase access to voting through additional early voting sites, hours, and days,
including an in-person vote by mail program.
In Iowa, the state legislature rejected several measures to require voters to present photo IDs this
election cycle and instead has left intact commonsense Iowa values that allow all voters to vote
without a hassle. Iowa has excellent election rules, and a bipartisan group of County Auditors
introduced “Precinct Atlas” – an Electronic Poll Book and step-by-step check-in guide for
Precinct Election Officials that will be used in 57 counties. In addition, when Iowa’s Secretary
of State Matt Schultz implemented “emergency” procedures in an attempt to purge suspected
non-citizens from the voting rolls, the ACLU successfully sued to stop the regulations; the
District Court in Polk County entered a ruling which will prevent these regulations from taking
effect before the election.
In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a statute that would have required voters to affirm
their citizenship status before receiving a ballot and a statute that required training for individuals
and organizations running voter registration programs. In response to the Governor’s veto,
Secretary of State Ruth Johnson added citizen affirmation to ballot applications; however, voting
rights groups coalesced and fought to get this removed from the voter registration forms.
Nevada is another state that does not require voters to have photo IDs. In addition to no photo
ID requirement, in June 2012, a group of Republican plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking to remove
the “None of these candidates” option from the ballot, an option that has been on the ballot in all
statewide and Presidential elections since the 1970’s. Ultimately, the 9th Circuit found the
"None of these Candidates" option constitutional. To the dismay of the Republican plaintiffs, the
ballots were printed with “None of these Candidates” on them; voters will once again use the
ballots they have long been comfortable.
In New Hampshire, the Republican-led legislature pushed through new photo ID and residency
requirements for voters. Although the photo ID requirement will not take full effect until 2013,
the residency requirement is immediate. On September 24th, a New Hampshire court granted a
temporary injunction, prohibiting the state from falsely telling students that if they registered to
vote in NH they would then have to obtain NH drivers licenses and car registrations - in order to
vote in the state. The residency language must also be removed from registration forms.
In 2011, Governor Bev Perdue vetoed a voter ID statute, which was upheld despite an override
attempt by the Republican-controlled General Assembly. As a result, the requirements for
exercising the right to vote are no different than they were in 2008. Moreover, North Carolina
has actually increased the number of early voting sites and hours in eight of the state’s most
populous counties and in numerous other counties. This is a huge success for North Carolinians’
access to voting.
Even though Pennsylvania enacted a photo ID law in 2012, it will have little practical effect as a
result of the final court decision in Applewhite v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As a result,
voters on November 6th will be asked to produce a photo ID but will be permitted to vote on the
regular voting machines – not by provisional ballot – whether or not they have ID. Ultimately,
this means that Pennsylvania voters will be able to vote on Election Day in Pennsylvania in the
same way they have in previous elections. The decision is yet another victory for voting rights
ahead of November’s election.
In 2011, the Republican Legislature passed a law shortening the Early Voting period, among
other restrictions. But, Ohioans overwhelmingly rejected these restrictions when they turned in
300,000 signatures last December, putting the law on the ballot, and forcing it to be suspended
until voters would have the opportunity to voice their opinion. But voters never got the chance to
make their voices heard. In May, Republicans passed another bill, attempting to repeal that first
law, that left some voting restrictions in place and eliminating Early Voting for most – but not all
- voters during the last 3 days prior to Election Day.
To combat these inequities, Obama for America brought suit to restore these last 3 days of early
voting to all Ohioans in federal district court. In Obama for America v. Husted, the District
Court found in our favor, and this decision was then affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the
Sixth Circuit. Then, Secretary of State Husted asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme
Court of the United States of America, but the stay was denied. As a result of this decision and a
newly issued directive by Secretary Husted, every voter, including members of the military,
veterans, and overseas citizens, alongside all Ohioans, will have the same opportunity to vote
early through the weekend and Monday before Election Day. Ohio now joins other states --
including Wisconsin, Florida, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania – in successfully fighting back
restrictions on voter participation.
Also, on October 11th the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a District Court’s order
requiring the state of Ohio to accept a ballot where a voter has cast her ballot in the wrong
precinct due to poll worker error.
In March 2012, the Virginia legislature voted to pass new voter ID requirements. This law
requires a voter without an ID to cast a provisional ballot, which would then only count if they
followed up with one of the following types of identification: college IDs, utility bills, bank
statements, government checks, or paychecks. Ultimately, the new law expands the forms of
identification accepted by Virginia election officials. Perhaps to pre-empt challenges from the
Justice Department, the governor has also ordered the Commonwealth to send new registration
cards to every active voter. This law has since been upheld by the Justice Department.
Moreover, the official guidance from the Virginia Board of Election has been revised to make
clarify that the address listed on a photo ID does not need to match the address listed in the poll
book. Although the address on a non-photo identification, such as a utility bill, must match the
address listed in the poll book, voters do not need to finish their most recent bill
In 2011, the Wisconsin legislature passed an omnibus election law bill that made voter
registration more difficult, enacted a strict photo ID requirement, and pushed additional
restrictions on the alternative balloting processes. In response, Obama for America-Wisconsin
created the “Own Your Vote” to educate voters on the election law changes. Importantly, a state
court found the bill’s voter identification provisions unconstitutional and they will not be in
effect for the November election.