“There has been a real push-back by the courts to these widespread efforts to restrict the vote,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which opposes the new laws. “If those seeking to suppress the vote won round one, round two seems to be going to the voters.”
Supporters of the laws argue that they will ensure that elections are fair and will cut down on the potential for voter fraud. Democrats contend that the laws disproportionately affect people who tend to vote for their candidates.
Florida, viewed by both President Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney as key to the election, passed several voting laws that have been challenged. Last week, a federal judge in Florida threw out a new state law that groups registering voters submit the registration cards within 48 hours or face steep fines, calling the mandate onerous. Justice Department officials have also challenged an effort by Florida’s Republican secretary of state to remove noncitizens from voter registration lists, saying it is illegal to conduct such a purge this close to an election.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) defended the review of the lists.
“We need to be reviewing our voter rolls and making sure only those individuals who have the right to vote . . . are voting,” Scott told WNDB radio in Daytona Beach.
In a letter to the Department of Justice, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner argued that the state has violated no federal voting laws and gave no indication that Florida will stop its effort to clean up voter registration lists -- setting up a showdown with federal authorities.
Last year, new ID measures were introduced in 34 states and passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas tightened existing voter ID laws to require a photo ID. Legislation in five other states was vetoed by their governors, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Since then, two state judges in Wisconsin have ruled its voter ID law unconstitutional. A Missouri court threw out a ballot initiative that would have allowed voters to decide whether photo IDs should be required, calling the language “misleading.”
The Justice Department has challenged ID laws in South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which could keep those laws from taking effect before November. Speaking to a group of black politicians and church leaders last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said that his department is committed to “aggressively enforcing the Voting Rights Act” and that it opposed the ID laws in the two states because of their impact on minority voters. The Voting Rights Act requires some states or counties with a history of discrimination to receive federal approval before changing their voting laws.