So a Pennsylvania judge today blocked state officials from enforcing the state’s new stringent voter ID law in the upcoming election, on the grounds that there isn’t enough time to implement the law without disenfranchising some voters. That’s a real victory, and while it could still be appealed, the law won’t impact the fall campaign.
As Dave Weigel reminds us, a Pennsylvania GOP leader had openly acknowledged that the purpose of the law was to “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Oh well. Maybe not.
But the battle to restrict voting — in the name of combatting all-but-nonexistent vote fraud — is a national one that is unfolding in many states, with some of it taking on a latter-day Jim Crow cast. So how does the big picture look?
It’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, opponents of voting restrictions have had surprising success beating back measures restricting voting in time for this fall’s elections. Lawrence Norden, a senior official at the Brennan Center, says measures to restrict voting have been stymied, for now, in Wisconsin, Texas, Florida, Arizona, South Carolina, Ohio, and, now, Pennsylvania.
“Virtually every voter restriction that has been challenged in the last year has lost in some way,” Norden says. Yes, the two measures in Ohio— one involving preliminary voting; the other involving provisional ballots — are being appealed and rulings could come before the election. But the big short term picture is that taken together, all these measures will have less of an impact on this fall’s elections than expected. “There has been more success than people on the left anticipated,” Rick Hasen, the author of The Voting Wars, tells me.
But the bad news, Hasen notes, is that over the long term, proponents of voting restrictions are more likely than not to prevail in the courts. Hasen believes that ultimately, Pennsylvania’s law will stand. And he notes that the Supreme Court has clearly signaled that it won’t block state courts from enacting such restrictions. “Long term, it’s not looking good for those who want to use the courts to cut back on these voting changes,” Hasen says.
This means opponents of voting restrictions may have to take the fight against those who would restrict voting into the political arena, rather than only battling in the courts. Given the current state of Congress, the chances of anything happening on the federal level are remote. But Hasen notes that some of these rules have prompted a backlash, perhaps suggesting the viability of more political action on the level of states.
“When you think about the franchise, for women and African Americans, that was accomplished politically,” Hasen says. That may be the next frontier in this battle, but in this election, at least, the push to restrict voting may prove to be the dog that didn’t bark.