Republicans are poised to gain next month from new election laws in almost half the 50 U.S. states, where the additional requirements defy a half-century trend of easing access to the polls. In North Carolina, where Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan’s re-election fight may determine the nation’s balance of power, the state ended same-day registration used more heavily by blacks. A Texas law will affect more than 500,000 voters who lack identification and are disproportionately black and Hispanic, according to a federal judge. In Ohio, lawmakers discontinued a week during which residents could register and vote on the same day, which another judge said burdens lower income and homeless voters. While Republicans say the laws were meant to stop fraud or ease administrative burdens, Democrats and civil-rights groups maintain they’re aimed at damping turnout by blacks, Hispanics and the young, who are their mainstays in an increasingly diverse America. Texas found two instances of in-person voter fraud among more than 62 million votes cast in elections during the preceding 14 years, according to testimony in the federal case. “You’re seeing the use of the election process as a means of clinging to power,” said Justin Levitt, who follows election regulation at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “You have more states passing laws that create hurdles and inconveniences to voting than we have seen go into effect in the last 50 years.”
Since Republicans won control of a majority of capitals in 2010, 21 states have instituted voter-identification laws, curtailed early polling and instituted stricter registration rules, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The trend was reinforced after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act last year.
At stake Nov. 4 is control of Congress and governments in 36 states. With the elections approaching, the Supreme Court dealt Democrats a defeat last week by allowing Texas to enforce an identification law that the federal judge who heard the case said was aimed at reducing black and Hispanic turnout. U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos called the measure “Draconian.”
That came after the court let Ohio cut early-voting hours and North Carolina eliminate same-day registration and discount provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct.