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November 5, 2012

8 questions about the presidential election

(Continued)

Q: What places are likely to encounter delays or other problems with voting?

A: The historic volume of early voting — it's possible that as much as 40 percent of the electorate will have cast ballots by Tuesday — is likely to ease some bottlenecks and speed the process on Election Day. But extremely long ballots in some localities, including in Florida, have already caused lengthy lines. Confusion over recent changes in state laws could complicate or delay voting. A Pennsylvania judge put the state's strict new photo-identification law on hold last month, ruling that election officials could ask for picture ID but not require it this year. Voting rights activists are concerned that poll workers may misunderstand the judge's decision and insist on photo identification. They also contend that some ads sponsored by the state are misleading and will suppress the vote by giving the impression that the law is currently in force. Technical snafus are always a part of election night. A study released this summer by Common Cause, the Rutgers School of Law and the Verified Voting Foundation listed six states (Colorado, Delaware, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina) as the "least prepared" to respond to voting-machine failures. Overall, the environment is significantly improved over 2000, when Florida voters used unreliable punch-card ballots and officials were left to examine dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads to divine a voter's intent.

Q: Will new state voter-ID requirements keep large numbers from voting?

A: Not to the extent once anticipated. Over the past two years, measures requiring voter identification became law in nine states, nearly all of them Republican-controlled. But courts and the federal government have struck down or placed on hold laws in four of them: Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Laws in Alabama, Rhode Island and South Carolina won't take effect until 2013 or 2014. That leaves Kansas, Tennessee, Georgia and Indiana with strict photo ID laws — the latter two states passed their laws before 2010. Other states, including Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and South Dakota, have less-stringent statutes that allow election officials to request photo ID but allow residents to vote without it. Virginia, Ohio and Arizona accept non-photo identification. Critics say the laws have disproportionate impact on seniors, voters under 30, the poor, and blacks and Hispanics. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law estimated that as many as 21 million voting-age Americans — 11 percent — lack government-issued photo ID.

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