Critics of tough voter ID laws are running out of time and options in their efforts to knock down those barriers ahead of this year’s midterm elections. Opponents got good news last week, when a state judge struck down Arkansas’s law, and another jolt Tuesday, when a federal judge ruled Wisconsin’s law, which wasn’t yet in effect, was unconstitutional. But their enthusiasm could be short-lived. At least eight states are still slated to have strict photo ID requirements in place in November, leading voting rights advocates to send dire warnings about potential disenfranchisement at the polls this year. Yet on Capitol Hill, the voter ID issue remains as partisan as ever, forcing even the sponsors of bills softening those rules to concede that their legislation has no chance of moving through a divided Congress in 2014. “My bill probably doesn’t have a lot of hope to it right now,” said Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), who’s pushing a proposal essentially nullifying many of the state-based ID requirements enacted in recent years, mostly by GOP legislatures, in the name of tackling election fraud. Instead, Democrats, advocates and other voter ID critics see their best hope in passing an update to the Voting Rights Act (VRA), the 1965 civil rights law that the Supreme Court gutted last summer.
Sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), the 2014 Voting Rights Act Amendment (VRAA) explicitly empowers states to adopt tougher voter ID requirements — an inclusion designed to attract conservative support — but it could also force some of those states to scale back those ID laws, a possibility being cheered by liberal voting rights advocates.
The Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill remains a long shot, but on the issue of voting rights, voices on all sides of the debate say it’s the only game in town.