The struggle over who can vote on Election Day is becoming more heated in courtrooms, judges’ chambers and statehouses across the country, paralleling the intensity of the presidential race. And at the moment, the side that wants fewer voting restrictions seems to be winning. The battle began in earnest after 2010, when several Republican state legislatures began tightening identification requirements on voters. It has reached a new level in the 2016 election, when voters in 17 states faced new restrictions that ranged from photo ID requirements to cutbacks on early voting and same-day registration. Republicans said the laws were necessary to prevent fraud; Democrats and voting rights advocates said the restrictions were really designed to reduce participation by minority groups and young voters who traditionally support Democrats. “It’s the biggest rollback of voting since Jim Crow,” said Jonathan Brater, an attorney at NYU Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, which compiled the list of restrictions.
But in just the past few weeks, several of these laws have been blocked or overturned by federal judges. On Monday, a District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction against a voter ID law in North Dakota. In the previous 10 days, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ID law in Texas violated the Voting Rights Act, a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a law in North Carolina, and a District Court judge in Wisconsin ruled that elements of the law there were unconstitutional. There is also major voting-law litigation ongoing in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio and Virginia.
Things are taking such a rapid turn that, while we were on the phone early this week, Brater was still deciphering the ruling fresh from North Dakota.
The legal fight has become a significant issue in the presidential race. Hillary Clinton has spoken forcefully against the voter ID laws in speeches and op-ed articles. “They’re doing everything they can to stop black people, Latinos, poor people, young people, people with disabilities from voting,” she said in Houston earlier this year.