These days, the old west rail hub of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is little more than a dusty economic dead zone amid a boneyard of bare mesas. In national elections, the town overwhelmingly votes Democratic: More than 80 percent of all residents are Hispanic, and one in four lives below the poverty line. On February 5th, the day of the Super Tuesday caucus, a school-bus driver named Paul Maez arrived at his local polling station to cast his ballot. To his surprise, Maez found that his name had vanished from the list of registered voters, thanks to a statewide effort to deter fraudulent voting. For Maez, the shock was especially acute: He is the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas.
Maez was not alone in being denied his right to vote. On Super Tuesday, one in nine Democrats who tried to cast ballots in New Mexico found their names missing from the registration lists. The numbers were even higher in precincts like Las Vegas, where nearly 20 percent of the county's voters were absent from the rolls. With their status in limbo, the voters were forced to cast "provisional" ballots, which can be reviewed and discarded by election officials without explanation. On Super Tuesday, more than half of all provisional ballots cast were thrown out statewide.
This November, what happened to Maez will happen to hundreds of thousands of voters across the country. In state after state, Republican operatives — the party's elite commandos of bare-knuckle politics — are wielding new federal legislation to systematically disenfranchise Democrats. If this year's race is as close as the past two elections, the GOP's nationwide campaign could be large enough to determine the presidency in November. "I don't think the Democrats get it," says John Boyd, a voting-rights attorney in Albuquerque who has taken on the Republican Party for impeding access to the ballot. "All these new rules and games are turning voting into an obstacle course that could flip the vote to the GOP in half a dozen states."