The finale is rigorously bipartisan.
In Cuyahoga County, home to Cleveland, each of the approximately 30,000 provisional ballots may be examined only when pairs of Democratic and Republican eyeballs are available. Moving paper from one side of the room to the other requires a bipartisan escort. And the keys to the locked room where the ballots are stored are kept in a safe that can only be opened when an R provides half the code and a D provides the other.
If only each of the legislative and administrative steps along the way had been so collaborative.
Instead, in an election year in which charges of voter suppression and voter fraud at times made as many headlines as the candidates, it was the courts that practiced the art of political compromise.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, which was a loud critic of the voting law changes advanced mostly by Republican-led legislatures around the country, said 25 new laws and two executive actions were adopted in 19 states.
And where those laws were challenged in the courts, plaintiffs were routinely successful.
“Virtually every court to consider a law or policy restricting voting this past year found in favor of the voters,” was the Brennan Center’s take in a report issued after the election. “Overall, 11 court decisions in eight states blocked or blunted new laws that would have made it harder for eligible Americans to vote.”
But often the judges, mostly federal judges but also those on state courts in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, were simply pragmatic.
Laws that require voters to show a picture ID may be fine, the judges said in several high-profile cases, but only if voters who don’t have such identification receive reasonable time to secure it or have a good excuse.
States may change early-voting laws, or not offer early voting at all, the courts said. But state law cannot be altered in ways that treat classes of voters differently, or disproportionately hurt minorities or the poor.
In Florida, a federal judge noted that the state had a strong interest in making sure that the groups that register voters were aboveboard. But a new law with reporting requirements so punitive that the League of Women Voters shut down operations “is a bad choice,” Judge Robert Hinckle said.
Likewise in Ohio, a law that disallowed the counting of provisional ballots that were flawed because of poll-worker error, rather than a voter’s mistake, struck a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit as “fundamentally unfair.”
A common element of almost all of the challenged laws is that they come from states where one party controls both the legislature and the governor’s office. Compromise was most often a missing ingredient.