A movement to set stricter rules at the ballot box has run up against a wave of skeptical court rulings, dealing a setback to a Republican-backed initiative to tighten identification requirements and other voting procedures. In separate cases, five federal courts recently have blocked voter-ID and other restrictions enacted by nearly party-line votes in recent years in North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin. The court rulings have determined the laws would harm minority voters, who are less likely to possess the required credentials, in violation of the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While emerging as a partisan flashpoint, the impact of the legal developments on Election Day is unclear. A 2014 report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office found that voter-ID laws in Kansas and Tennessee reduced participation by African-Americans and people under the age of 24 by 1.9% to 3.2%, potentially enough to sway a tight election.
Proponents of such laws say the new rules are needed to reduce the chance of election fraud. Critics say the rules would suppress voting by African-Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans, who typically vote for Democrats.
Federal judges appointed by both Democratic and Republican presidents have found the voter ID laws disproportionately impede minority voters while doing little to reduce potential fraud.
“There is a total lack of any evidence to show voter fraud has ever been a problem in North Dakota,” U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland, in Bismarck, N.D., wrote on Monday, siding with Native Americans who challenged a 2015 law that limited the types of acceptable identification at the polls.