he fights in our states over how hard or easy it is to vote have been filling the courts and are headed toward the Supreme Court. The cases range from voter ID laws to early voting rules and beyond. Already there is a case from Ohio, with ones from Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas potentially on the way in a matter of days or weeks. The stakes are high, not only for the lazy 2014 midterm elections but also for the 2016 presidential election and for the protection of voting rights in the next decade. The fact that the cases are making it to the Supreme Court at about the same time is no surprise. Over the past decade, in the period I have called “the voting wars,” we have seen both an increase in restrictive voting rights legislation passed by Republican legislatures, such as voter ID laws, and litigation from both Democrats and Republicans to manipulate the election system to their advantage. In 2008, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter identification law, and in 2013, the Supreme Court in the Shelby County case struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act providing that states with a history of racial discrimination in voting get approval before making changes to their voting rules and procedures.
Freed by these rulings, Republican legislatures have imposed tougher voter ID laws, cutbacks in early voting, limitations on voter registration, and other rules that make it harder to cast a valid ballot, such as North Carolina’s rule saying that if a voter casts a ballot at the wrong precinct, it cannot be counted for any races, even those for which the voter is eligible to vote.
One judge asked: “How come the state of North Carolina doesn’t want people to vote?”
Voting rights advocates have sued to block all or parts of these laws. In Ohio, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just ruled that it violates both the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act for Ohio to cut back from 35 to 28 days of early voting. The restrictions include eliminating the last Sunday before Election Day, which African-American churches used for “Souls to the Polls” voting drives. Ohio has filed an emergency petition to the Supreme Court, and the court may rule as soon as Monday. Update, Sept. 29, 2014: The Supreme Court voted 5–4 to allow Ohio to reduce the number of early voting days.