In the run-up to the 2012 election, there was widespread concern about a slew of restrictive voting laws passed by Republicans. But those fears mostly weren’t borne out. Courts blocked several of the worst moves before election day. And record African-American turnout suggested the assault on voting might even have backfired by firing up minority voters. But Republicans didn’t ease off on the push to make voting harder. If anything, they doubled down. And this time around, they’ve had a lot more success as several voting restrictions are now in effect for the first time in a major election. That’s likely to help the GOP this fall. But voting rights advocates say the bigger lesson is that current laws protecting access to the ballot just aren’t strong enough. “This is a clear example of the need for additional federal protections,” said Myrna Perez, a top lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, and one of the attorneys who argued against the Texas voter ID law, which was approved for the election by the U.S. Supreme Court early Saturday morning. That decision—which came just two days before early voting kicks off in the Lone Star State—means most of the statewide voting restrictions that in recent weeks were the subject of court fights will be in place when voters go to the polls. In addition to the Texas law—green-lighted despite a federal judge’s ruling that it intentionally discriminated against minorities—North Carolina’s sweeping voting law and Ohio’s cuts to early voting will also be in effect.
On the other side of the ledger, Wisconsin’s voter ID law was blocked by the Supreme Court, and Arkansas’s was overturned by the state’s top court.
The restrictions will give the GOP a boost in the midterms. Most critically, if North Carolina’s elimination of same-day registration, cuts to early voting, and other changes keep large numbers of blacks from the polls, they’ll benefit Thom Tillis, the Republican running against Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in a race that could end up determining control of the U.S. Senate. Texas hosts not just a high-profile race for governor, but also a closely-fought House race, in which Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat, is trying to fend off a Republican challenger. And Ohio has a race for governor, too, in which a big win for incumbent John Kasich could turn him into a leading 2016 presidential contender.
But beyond the immediate political fallout, the events of recent weeks may augur even more trouble for voting rights going forward.