Battles Over Ballot Access

Voters in Close to Half the States Face Tougher Voting Laws in the Upcoming Midterm Elections

For the first time in many years, voters across the country are going to find it more difficult to vote in the November midterm elections. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, voters in 22 states will face tougher rules than they did in the 2010 midterm elections. In 15 of those states, the upcoming midterm elections will be the first major election in which voter restrictions are in place.The relationship between tougher restrictions and political party is startling.


Cutbacks to early voting and voter registration opportunities, and stricter voter ID laws occurred after Republicans took over state legislatures and governorships in 2010.  Of the 22 states with reduced voter access, 18 (82%) have entirely Republican-controlled legislatures.The Washington Post reports today that the number of voters affected by voter ID laws alone may exceed one million. Voter ID laws disproportionately impact minorities and the young, populations that tend to vote for Democratic candidates. Civil rights advocates believe that reducing opportunities for early voting will harm minority and poor voters in particular. Some of the controversial voting rules still are being battled in the courts.


Just this week a divided U.S. Supreme Court delayed the start of early voting in Ohio a day before it was to begin. In a 5-4 decision along ideological lines, the Court blocked victories won by civil rights groups in lower courts. The decision is a win for Republicans who moved to reduce early voting with a law they passed in February. The law reduced early voting from 35 to 28 days.  In 2012, 157,000 Ohio voters cast their ballots during the days that now have been eliminated. The Court also blocked the restoration of some evening and Sunday voting that lower courts had ordered.  The largest beneficiaries of evening and Sunday voting times are minorities and the poor.The Ohio early voting case was the first to reach the Supreme Court and it has implications for ongoing cases in Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin.


Also last week, the U.S. Justice Department joined by several black, Hispanic, and advocacy groups argued in U.S. District Court that a law requiring Texas voters to show government-issued identification before casting a ballot puts unjustified burdens on more than 600,000 Texans. The Texas law is regarded by many experts as the strictest in the country. The list of acceptable ID includes driver’s license, U.S. passport, a concealed-handgun license, or an election ID certificate issued by the state Dept. of Public Safety.Forms of other ID allowed in other states such as student ID cards are not allowed.


So, even though the ballots are printed and election workers are trained, with but four weeks to go before the midterm election the rules under which voting will be conducted are very much up in the air in a number of states. The outcomes of some very tight races may hinge on the outcomes of some key court cases in the coming weeks. From high school history we may recall that expansionist President James Polk adopted the phrase, “54-40 or fight!” Well, a current cry among voting rights advocates might be “fight 5-4!”


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