Bad week for voter ID laws. Will Supreme Court weigh in before election?
In case after case, federal judges are siding with the Department of Justice’s claims that tougher state voting rules discriminate against the poor and minorities. But states vow to appeal to the Supreme Court, which has viewed voter ID laws favorably.
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The science on voter ID laws, however, is far from settled, as officials in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas have argued. They have pointed to a Georgia voter ID law that took effect in 2005, where the immediate impact was that higher percentages of minorities voted in 2008 and 2010 than before the law was enacted. Other studies have found that minority voter participation falls off slightly immediately after new rules take effect, and then bounces back and in some cases even increases.Skip to next paragraph
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In Indiana, the Supreme Court in 2007 turned down a Democratic challenge to a tough voter ID law. In that case, the Supreme Court said the “risk of voter fraud is real” and “could affect the outcome of a close election.” The court went on to say, “While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear.”
But in their ruling on behalf of states’ ability to regulate elections, the high court also noted that state “judgment must prevail unless it imposes a severe and unjustified overall burden upon the right to vote, or is intended to disadvantage a particular class.”
And therein, most likely, lies the root of judicial suspicion about the motives behind the new regulations, including laws passed and enacted in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee. (Meanwhile, governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina vetoed new ID laws passed by their legislatures.)
In the Texas voter ID case, judges took note that Texas is one of the jurisdictions covered under Section 5 of the Civil Rights Act, where new voting rules have to be “precleared” by the Justice Department before they take effect – residue of the historic legacy of discrimination, largely in the South. Justices said their ruling was a “narrow” one looking specifically at a law they deemed perhaps the toughest in the nation.
“A law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote,” the opinion said. “Simply put, many Hispanics and African Americans who voted in the last election will, because of the burdens imposed by [the voter-ID law], likely be unable to vote in the next election.”