With five weeks until the election, voters around the country face new requirements when they go to the polls, and some have more limited opportunities to vote before Election Day.
But those opposed to the changes have won key victories in the courts, where judges have had to balance a state’s traditional right to make rules for the electoral process with citizens’ fundamental right to vote.
A panel of federal judges blocked a new law in Texas, saying the state had not proved that the changes would not disproportionately harm minorities. State judges in Wisconsin stopped the statute there. South Carolina’s measure is under federal judicial review, with little time for implementation even if it is approved.
Pennsylvania is emblematic of the partisan dynamic that has motivated the changes.
As in many other states, a resurgent Republican leadership elected in 2010 moved quickly to enact one of the toughest ID laws, which required specific forms of photo identification that many residents — the number is disputed — lack. Lawmakers and new Republican Gov. Tom Corbett say the changes are necessary to combat voter fraud and restore confidence in the integrity of elections.
Democrats and civil rights groups say there is almost no evidence of the kind of voter-impersonation fraud that ID requirements would remedy. They allege that the real purpose of such laws is to suppress turnout of poor, urban and minority voters, who are the most likely to lack photo IDs.
Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson, who upheld Pennsylvania’s law when he first considered it this summer, ruled Tuesday that state officials had not made enough progress in supplying photo IDs for those who lack them. He said it seemed likely that some otherwise qualified voters would be disenfranchised.
Simpson said elections officials may request that voters show a photo ID, but they may not turn away qualified voters who had not been able to obtain them, nor require the voters to cast provisional ballots.
State officials said they had not decided whether to appeal Simpson’s ruling to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. But a joint statement from Corbett and his secretary of state made it sound as if they were preparing to give up the fight to use the law in the coming election.
A strict statute
The Pennsylvania statute has drawn particular attention because of its strictness: Only certain types of ID are accepted, and critics say the process for securing them is unwieldy and for some, almost impossible.
The partisan bickering over the measure ratcheted up this summer when a video surfaced of Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) bragging about the law at a meeting of GOP activists.