The Justice Department’s decision last week to block a new South Carolina law requiring voters to present photo identification is only the first of what will be a year-long battle between advocates and opponents of stricter voting laws. And the results of those fights could determine the winner of the 2012 presidential election.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said her state will appeal DOJ’s decision in court, casting it as “bullying” by the federal government. At the same time, civil right groups are promising to fight similar provisions in states such as Wisconsin and Texas, arguing these laws unfairly target minorities, who are less likely to hold photo identification.
The law passed earlier this year in Wisconsin, which goes into effect in 2012 and would require a photo ID to vote, is particularly important. President Obama easily won the Badger State in 2008, but it has shifted sharply to the right since then; Republicans won the U.S. Senate seat and governor’s race last year. Texas is a traditionally-Republican state, but Obama campaign officials say the state’s growing popular of voters under 40 and Latinos could allow them to compete there.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down the Wisconsin law earlier this month, and the group is encouraging DOJ to block the Texas law as well. (Attorney General Eric Holder has said his department is scrutinizing the Texas law closely) The ACLU lawsuit will be an uphill climb; in 2008 the U.S Supreme Court upheld a similar law in Indiana.
“The (Justice) Department affirmed that federal law cannot tolerate election statutes that make it harder for minority citizens to vote,” said Michael Waldman of the Brennan Center’s for Justice, a New York-based liberal leaning group that has targeted the voting laws. “Now the Department should subject other state laws to similar scrutiny.”