WASHINGTON — Field workers for President Barack Obama’s campaign are fanning across the country this weekend in an effort to confront a barrage of new voter identification laws that strategists say threaten the campaign’s hopes for registering new voters ahead of the November election.
In Wisconsin, where a new state law requires those registering voters to be deputized in each of the state’s 1,800 municipalities, the campaign has sent a team of trainers armed with instructions for complying with the new regulations.
In Florida, the campaign’s voter registration aides are traveling across the state to train volunteers on a new requirement that voter registration signatures be handed in to state officials within 48 hours after they are collected.
And in Ohio, Obama’s staff members are beginning outreach to let voters know about new laws that discourage precinct workers from telling voters where to go if they show up at the wrong precinct.
Many of the laws in question — including the ones in Florida and Wisconsin — are the subject of legal challenges by Democratic groups who say they are part of a partisan, Republican effort to dampen turnout of voters, particularly minorities, for Obama and his party.
But senior aides to Obama said the campaign is preparing for the laws to be upheld and in force this fall — just in case.
“We have to assume that these laws will be in effect in November,” Jeremy Bird, the field
director for the campaign, said in an interview. “We are not allowing laws that are challenging and put in our way to stop us from doing what we need to do.”
Advocates of the new laws, which have been passed in about 30 states since the last presidential election, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud.
They include tougher voter identification requirements and more rules about where and how groups can register new voters.
Mark Cole, a Virginia lawmaker who sponsored a bill requiring voters to show identification, told Virginia Statehouse News that it is “a good ballot integrity measure” that will “increase confidence in the electoral process.”
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, is an advocate of the push by Republican state legislatures to toughen the laws.
“For centuries our electoral process is based on one person, one vote, and for anyone to politicize the issue reeks of desperation and represents the worst in modern politics,” Priebus said.
Senior advisers to Obama’s campaign say many of the new laws put a heavy burden on the registration process, making it more difficult to recruit first-time voters. Other laws shorten the early-voting period in states that had tried to expand the voting window.
“They are clearly put forward for partisan political gains,” Bird said. “They are trying to change the rules in the middle of the game.”
The new Florida law requires that voter registration drives be conducted by third-party groups that are certified by the state and requires the groups to account for all forms that are checked out from the election division. Those rules are the centerpiece of a training effort this weekend by the Obama for America staff in the state.
All volunteers and staff in Florida are required to attend a mandatory session on the new laws, campaign officials said. Those who go through the training must pass a quiz before they can attempt to register voters on the president’s behalf.
Those who pass are registered with Florida’s election officials and provided with additional instruction on how to meet the state’s 48-hour rules.
“This is the reality,” Bird said. “We are going to make sure that we have a very tight, very sophisticated program to follow that law.”
The same is true in Pennsylvania, officials for Obama’s campaign said. In that state, voters must now present photo identification in order to vote on Election Day or to pick up an absentee ballot. In the 2008 campaign, the rule only applied to first-time voters.
Now, Obama’s campaign in Pennsylvania includes information about the new requirement in all materials they pass out to voters. Volunteers who canvass neighborhoods are instructed to ask potential supporters whether they have photo identification to bring to their precinct.
Campaign officials declined to put a price tag on the new efforts to comply with voter identification laws, saying that the extra time and expense is being built into the budgets for each state’s campaign.
Four years ago, Obama’s campaign used novel approaches to expand the pool of voters, including registration drives at barbershops and beauty salons in African-American neighborhoods. The campaign plans to expand those efforts, setting up voter registration outposts in those settings.
But the real impact of the new laws may not be the financial cost. Bird said the campaign has identified the number of voters they believe must turn out in each state in order for Obama to win in November.
If the new state laws prevent the campaign from reaching those goals, it could cost Obama a second term.