Damon Johnson is a 19-year-old sophomore studying chemical engineering at historically black Prairie View A&M University. He’s learning a lot about voting, too. Mr. Johnson is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed last month by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund alleging that rural Waller County has tried to disenfranchise students at the university over decades, most recently by curtailing early voting on campus. The polling station at the university’s student center was restricted to three days of early voting, compared with two weeks in some other parts of the county — and two weeks at majority-white Texas A&M in a nearby county. “I don’t want this to be the reason, but it looks like we’re PVAMU in a predominantly white area and they don’t really want us to vote,” Mr. Johnson said recently.
Limiting access to voting is rooted deep in American history, beginning with the founding fathers and peaking during the Jim Crow era in the South. But in the wake of the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the idea that disenfranchising legitimate voters was unethical, and even un-American, gained traction.
No more. Almost two decades after the Bush v. Gore stalemate led to voting rules being viewed as key elements of election strategy, the issue is playing an extraordinary role in the midterm elections.
Restrictions on voting, virtually all imposed by Republicans, reflect rising partisanship, societal shifts producing a more diverse America, and the weakening of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013.
In North Dakota, Republicans passed an ID law that disproportionally affected Native Americans, strong supporters of the state’s Democratic senator, Heidi Heitkamp, who is in an uphill fight. In Florida, New Hampshire, Texas and Wisconsin, among others, out-of-state university students face unusual hurdles to casting ballots.