Voter-ID laws’ impact blunted, Democrat says

Lawyer for Obama campaign, DNC says litigation has curbed restrictions

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A top attorney for President Obama’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee predicted Wednesday that new voter-identification laws passed in a number of states will have a minimal impact on turnout in the fall elections, saying that Democrats have made “significant progress” in blunting their effects and that he thinks the country will likely avoid electoral “Armageddon.”

The proclamation comes as a number of the laws are mired in court battles across the country, but it still could allay some Democratic fears that turnout of the poor, minorities and the elderly — all groups crucial for Mr. Obama — will be suppressed as a result.

“I believe that we have made significant progress to blunting the effect of these restrictions,” said Robert F. Bauer, general counsel for Mr. Obama’s campaign and the DNC.

The new laws, passed by a number of Republican-controlled legislatures since the 2008 election, have emerged as a major new salvo this election cycle. Proponents of the laws, many of which require people to provide some form of photo-ID or government-issued identification card to vote, argue they are meant to combat fraud and ensure the integrity of the voting process.

Citing the scant amount of documented voter fraud in the country’s recent history, Democrats have charged that the laws were put in place simply to make the process more difficult for voters who are more likely to support them.

But Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the campaign committee charged with electing Republicans to the U.S. House of Representatives, dismissed the notion that the laws are politically motivated.

“That’s not what this is about,” he said. “It’s the integrity of the system”

Mr. Sessions recalled a personal experience that didn’t pass the “smell test” when he lost a congressional race to Democrat John Bryant in 1994.

About 7,000 votes, all notarized by the same person and dated that day suddenly surfaced at an election office at 7 p.m., Mr. Sessions said. He lost by about 2,300 votes.

“It was legal, but it wasn’t fair, and it wasn’t right,” he said. “Did I lose because of that? I can’t say that. You never heard a peep out of me. Never heard a peep out of me.”

“I don’t think it was discrimination,” he continued. “I think it was a violation of the law.”

Mr. Bauer and Mr. Sessions spoke at a forum on the impact of new voter-ID and election laws hosted by the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

Mr. Bauer, who served as general counsel for the White House from 2010 to 2011, noted that such laws designed to make sure voters prove who they are have, in turn, spread to other efforts to change requirements for early voting, absentee voting, and rules for election workers.

The state of Ohio on Tuesday, for example, asked a federal court to reverse a lower court’s decision to grant an equal amount of early voting days given to military members or people living overseas to all voters. A U.S. District Court judge ruled the law unconstitutional last month after it was challenged by the Obama administration.

Courts also rejected election laws in Florida and Texas last month, and challenges are pending in a handful of other states such as Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado and Pennsylvania — all of which could be critical in determining the outcome of the fall presidential election.

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