As the midterm elections hit their final, frenzied stretch, a handful of court decisions on voting laws threaten to scramble the outcome in unpredictable ways. We had something of a split decision. The Supreme Court has blocked Wisconsion’s voter ID law from moving forward before the election, but North Carolina voting restrictions will be in force.
Both of these races are very close. The decision means that in the Wisconsin gubernatorial contest, we can now have a “normal, high-turnout election,” as John Nichols puts it.
In North Carolina, however, restrictions that did away with same-day registration and voting, and the counting of ballots in wrong precincts, were upheld. Will this matter? Well, one fact about North Carolina is that the Democrats’ traditional midterm drop-off problem — in which core Dem groups like young voters, minorities and single women who tend to be less economically stable sit out elections — is particularly pronounced. So this latest decision could matter. Meanwhile, a new study finds restrictions did depress turnout in Kansas and Tennessee in 2012.
However, in North Carolina, there’s an interesting nuance to keep in mind. The state’s voting restrictions were part of a broader hard right turn by the state legislature presided over by GOP Senate candidate and state House speaker Thom Tillis, and the race has turned to an unexpected degree on the backlash that appears to have greeted this state-level experiment in right wing governance. And so, Democrats in the state are hoping to turn the voting restrictions — like other conservative state-level policies — to their advantage by using them to galvanize core supporters.
One North Carolina Democrat emails this about the decision:
It’s not helpful, but then, we were always planning to operate under these restrictions, and our field program continued to operate as if they’d be in effect after the circuit court ruling because we knew SCOTUS might go the other way. So we’re prepared.
That said, the news that the Republicans are trying to suppress the vote is highly motivating to our core supporters. As it turns out, low turnout base voters don’t take kindly to the message that somebody thinks they should stay home.
And so, this could prove another way in which right-wing state-level governance is on the ballot this fall in an election that was supposed to be all about Obama and national Democrats, and depending on how this goes, it might not necessarily work in Republicans’ favor.
* RIGHT WING GOVERNANCE ON BALLOT IN KANSAS: The National Education Association is going up with a good ad hammering Kansas Governor Sam Brownback over education cuts. It shows footage of Brownback saying that his agenda was a “real live experiment” — one conservatives have showcased to the whole country — and then runs through the results for Kansas schools. Conclusion: “Governor, your experiment has failed.”
* KANSAS SENATOR TRIES TO HEAL RIFT WITH TEA PARTY: Also in Kansas, the Wall Street Journal reports that Senator Pat Roberts is working overtime to shore up conservative support in the face of a stiff challenge from independent Greg Orman. As the Journal notes, this is a reminder of the depth of the rift among Kansas Republicans and suggests Roberts is so desperate to find votes to survive that he has had to tack to the right.
The polling average suggests Roberts could still hang in there: He only trails by 1.2 points.
* SOUTH DAKOTA RACE INTENSIFIES: The Washington Examiner reports that the Republican candidate in the South Dakota Senate race, former Governor Mike Rounds, is going up with ads targeting both his opponents — independent Larry Pressler (who will be painted as an Obama rubber stamp) and Democrat Rick Weiland. The ads underscore GOP worries that Rounds could potentially lose the contest, given its unpredictable three-way nature — which could allow a surprise Dem pickup, complicating the GOP quest for a majority.
* WHY GEORGIA SENATE SEAT MAY BE IN PLAY: Gallup publishes new numbers that, it says, help explain why Michell Nunn may have a “realistic” shot at beating Republican David Perdue. Only 27 percent of Georgia voters are registered Republicans, versus 40 percent independents and 28 percent Democrats. There’s also been a dip in self-described conservatives, who now number only 39 percent of the electorate.
Nunn still trails by 3.8 points, however, so there’s a lot of ground to make up. But there are still ads coming that will feature video of Perdue saying he is “proud” of his outsourcing past.
* REPUBLICAN FORTUNES RISE IN ALASKA: FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten looks at the polls and concludes that Republican Dan Sullivan is now the clear favorite to defeat Senator Mark Begich. If there is one place where the Dems’ vaunted mobilization effort will be put to the test, it’s here, where Dems are working to find voters in far flung rural villages, in an effort to overcome a deep disadvantage: Mitt Romney carried this state by 14 points.
If Dems cannot hold any of the red states (aside from North Carolina), their majority is at serious risk, and the pressure for a long-shot pickup (Kansas, South Dakota, Georgia, Kentucky) intensifies considerably.
* AND SHAHEEN BESTS BROWN IN LATEST ‘WAR ON WOMEN’ SKIRMISH: Scott Brown is griping about Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s latest very tough ad attacking Brown for supporting a bill that would “force women considering an abortion to look at color photographs of developing fetuses.”
Glenn Kessler has a useful look at the facts, and concludes that while Shaheen went a bit too far, Brown “protests too much” with his complaint, and that the purpose of the bill he supported “was to increase roadblocks to women seeking an abortion.” That seems rather relevant to this debate, no?