With the midterm elections only months away, efforts to carry out some of the country’s strictest photo ID requirements and shorten early voting in several politically pivotal states have been thrown into limbo by a series of court decisions concluding that the measures infringe on the right to vote. The most recent ruling came last Wednesday, when a federal judge ordered Ohio’s elections chief to restore early voting hours on the three days before Election Day. It is the second lower court decision in Ohio since 2012 that bolsters voter rights. The court decisions have gone both ways, but several have provided a new round of judicial rebukes to the wave of voting restrictions, nearly all of them introduced since 2011 in states with Republican majorities. The decisions have ensured that challenges will remain a significant part of the voting landscape, perhaps for years. And, with challenges still going through the courts, voting rules and requirements remain uncertain in several states before the midterm elections.
Opponents of these voting laws have been heartened by the successes of the past six months in places like Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. But with cases still awaiting legal action in seven states, including appellate rulings, it remains unclear what kind of impact the rulings will have on the midterms.
A few state and federal appeals courts have indicated they may rule before Election Day, potentially affecting voting in Arizona, Arkansas and Kansas, among other states.
“There have been a string of victories, but as to the ultimate balance, it’s too early to tell,” said Richard L. Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine. “But at the moment the courts have been leaning more toward striking down some of these laws.”