ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans, Democrats and their advocacy groups are gearing up to navigate an Election Day governed by voting rules that have changed since the last national election — some of which are still tied up in the courts.
For Republicans, the effort is about maintaining ballot integrity and preventing fraud. Democrats and their allies, meanwhile, say the focus is maximizing participation.
Michael Thielen, executive director of the Republican National Lawyers Association, whose group provides attorneys in every state to help monitor elections and handle any challenges to voting rules, said the GOP wants "an open, fair and honest election."
Said former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who now leads the Center for American Progress Action Fund, "there is growing perception that there is a systemic effort to make it more difficult for certain segments of our population to vote."
Strickland spent the final days of the campaign traveling to advocate voter turnout. He criticized Republican-passed election laws that he argues disproportionately affect poorer, younger and nonwhite voters who lean Democratic.
"It's not good for democracy," Strickland said.
Thielen dismissed the charge, calling it an argument for "for partisan purposes to rile up the Democrat(ic) Party base."
"Democrats for years have claimed Republicans suppress voters at the polls," Thielen said. "This cycle, they have changed their mantra from, 'Republican poll watchers suppress voters' to 'Republican legislatures pass laws that suppress voters.'"
No matter the ideology, the rules for voting are different in many states than they were in 2012. Here's a look at the varying landscape.
The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed a new photo identification requirement to stand in Texas, while lower courts consider a constitutional challenge to the law. But the high court blocked a similar requirement in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 White House contender, is seeking a second term.
The Arkansas Supreme Court struck down that state's new photo ID requirement, so it won't be in play as Republican Rep. Tom Cotton tries to knock off Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, the incumbent.
In North Carolina, where Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan is in a fierce re-election battle with Republican Thom Tillis, some voters may think photo identification is required, but that provision of the state's sweeping new voting law doesn't take effect until 2016.
"This can all be unnecessarily confusing to voters," Strickland said.
Democratic-controlled Illinois, meanwhile, enacted rules that apply only to this year's governor's race that scrapped a photo ID requirement for the state's early voting period. Thielen called that a sign Democratic lawmakers are trying to help Gov. Pat Quinn win a tight race.
Thielen said Georgia, another state with a competitive Senate race, has had a voter identification requirement "for years without any problems," and early voting numbers in the state have surpassed 2010 totals, almost entirely in urban counties where Democrats dominate.
Iowa residents who have yet to register can still have a say between Republican Joni Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley, another tight Senate matchup. Iowa is one of 10 states that allow voters to register and cast a ballot on the same day.
Yet some voters in Georgia, perhaps several thousand, still haven't heard whether they are registered. That's because state law sets a specific voter application deadline, Oct. 6 this year, but doesn't set a date for authorities to process the forms. County elections officials said in recent weeks that they were still working. A state judge declined to intervene in the matter.
In Montana, voters will have the opportunity to repeal same-day registration in a referendum. And in Illinois, same-day registration will be available at limited polling locations.
Provisional ballots are required in every state under federal law approved after the 2000 presidential election. They allow a would-be voter to cast a ballot that is counted only if the citizen later proves they should be legally registered. States set different postelection deadlines — typically between three days and seven days —for the citizen to produce the required documentation.
Strickland's group released a study showing that about a third of those ballots end up not being counted, with the ratio even higher in precincts with a high number of minorities.
"We're not making conclusions as to why," he said. "But we are asking that it be studied. ... In general, it seems that provisional ballots are becoming an easy excuse for elections officials not to fix administrative problems or registration requirements that make it harder for people to vote."
EARLY OR ABSENTEE VOTING
At least 16.4 million people had already voted in 31 states as of Saturday, according to data compiled by The Associated Press. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina and Wisconsin surpassed their 2010 advance vote totals.
Thirty-three states allow some kind of early voting. Among those that don't is Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In Colorado, where Republican Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Mark Udall are in a tight race, voters will vote almost entirely by mail for the first time. Colorado joins Washington and Oregon as states that mail ballots to every registered voter ahead of the election.
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