In recent months, courts have struck down voter identification laws in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas, heartening critics who feared the laws would turn away legitimate voters in November. But because the judges declined to reject the laws as unconstitutional, voter ID opponents may be winning battles but losing the broader war. The recent rulings have done little to alter the legal basis that has allowed comparable laws in Georgia and Indiana to stand for years. In Pennsylvania, for example, the judge ruled that state officials did not have enough time to implement the new voter ID law before Election Day. And a federal court ruled that Texas’s specific law would place a disproportionate burden on minority voters, but it left the door open for a different voter ID measure.
For the most part, opponents have been unable to win the crucial argument: That voter ID laws are an unconstitutional infringement on voting rights. “The long-term trend is for courts to uphold most of these changes and to leave the issues to the political process,” says Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of the recent book The Voting Wars. “Most courts are holding that these laws are, in fact, constitutional.”