Though the presidential race is tightening, few observers are forecasting a replay of the 2000 election—when the vote was so close that it took 35 days and a Supreme Court decision to name a winner. But if predictions about what will transpire on November 8th are as reliable as last year’s dismissals of Donald Trump’s prospects in the primaries, the Trump-Clinton outcome may end up resting on a few thousand votes in a handful of states. In that event, three recent court rulings against Republican efforts to stack the electoral deck in their favour may play a role in staving off a President Trump. In Michigan, where Mrs Clinton’s lead over Mr Trump is narrowing by the day, a federal judge on July 21st ruled against a Republican Party-sponsored law meddling with the contours of the election ballot. For 125 years, Michigan voters have had the option of straight-ticket voting, where filling in a single bubble registers one’s preference for every candidate from a given party. Banning this practice, said Judge Gershwin Drain, disproportionately impacts black voters who use the straight-party option in high numbers. Since “African-Americans in Michigan, as in the rest of the country, tend to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats”, and since filling in a bubble for each candidate takes much longer, the law will increase “voter wait times…greatly in African-American communities”, endangering their right to vote and dimming Democrats’ chances for electoral success. In a remarkable series of references, Judge Drain cited Mr Trump’s “ethnocentric” speeches, situating the Michigan law in the context of the “racially charged rhetoric” of the presidential campaign.
The other two laws batted down last week imposed photo identification requirements on residents of Wisconsin, another swing state, and Texas, a reliably red one. Thirty four states request identification at polling places, and the rules in nine are characterised as “strict” by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan advocacy group. But few have laws as unbending as Texas’s Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) or Wisconsin’s Act 23, both passed in 2011.
SB 14 requires voters to show a Texas driver’s licence, gun licence, personal ID card or election ID certificate—or a military ID card, citizenship certificate or passport—before entering the voting booth. A driver’s licence from another state will not do; nor will university identification. The more than 600,000 registered voters lacking those documents may still vote, but their ballots will be destroyed unless they show up to a government office within six days and manage to produce one of the prescribed forms of identification. The story in Wisconsin is similar, though student ID cards are acceptable there (as long as they are current) and the period for showing ID to a clerk after election day is half as long (they must do so by the following Friday at 4pm).