As voting season heats up this fall, so too does the debate over new voting and election laws. The major issue this cycle is the passage of controversial laws for voter identification and administration of elections in many states, including key swing states. The debate over voting laws is becoming more acute as November 6th nears, with advocacy groups, campaigns, and courts weighing in.
On Wednesday, Deborah Charles summarized the key aspects of new voting laws passed in more than a dozen states this year, as well as the position of the major political parties on the issue:
Some of the laws involve requiring voters to produce photo identification. Others curtail early-voting periods that are designed to help working-class people cast ballots if they can’t make it to the polls on Election Day. Still others have imposed strict requirements on groups that conduct voter-registration drives.
Republicans have said the laws are aimed largely at preventing voter fraud. But Democrats, civil rights advocates and other critics say their true purpose is to suppress voting among minorities and other groups that tend to vote for Democrats.
Charles reports that 19 states have passed voter ID laws or laws that curtail early voting or alter voter registration procedures. The laws may be challenged in court regardless of election outcomes, but close election results would raise the stakes and increase the chances of a serious challenge to the constitutionality of the laws. As Charles points out, several important swing states, including Ohio and Florida, have passed controversial voting laws.
As a result, campaigns are hiring lawyers now, anticipating a potential battle in the event that the application one of these new laws calls into question the validity of election results. This increased focused on election law and potential litigation is not unique to the 2012 cycle, however. Charles interviewed election law specialist Rick Hasen, who described how election litigation has amplified since the Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore:
“The amount of election litigation has more than doubled from before 2000,” said Hasen, who has written a book, “The Voting Wars” on how partisan battles have moved into the courtroom since the dispute over the presidential election of 2000 went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before Republican George W. Bush was declared the winner over Democrat Al Gore.
Bush v. Gore appears to have helped usher in a new era of election challenges, in which election law experts find themselves in high demand every four years. This year promises to keep election lawyers busy representing both sides of the debate.
Indeed, the litigation has already begun. In Pennsylvania (another swing state), a lawsuit challenging the state’s new voter ID law has reached the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The Pennsylvania case, in which plaintiffs seek an injunction against the law before the election, is being watched closely by legal scholars and pollsters alike. A federal court in Texas already blocked that state’s similar law in a decision last month. A challenge to the South Carolina voter ID law is currently underway. Meanwhile, Florida’s early voting law (which curtailed the time in which early voting could occur in 67 counties) was rejected by a federal panel of judges in August; Florida has since obtained approval of a modified plan for five counties from the U.S. Department of Justice. Finally, in Ohio, the state attorney general is appealing a judge’s ruling overturning limits on early voting.
Posted by Emily Fisher