A new voter ID law could shut out many Native Americans from the polls in North Dakota. A strict rule on the collection of absentee ballots in Arizona is being challenged as a form of voter suppression. And officials in Georgia are scrubbing voters from registration rolls if their details do not exactly match other records, a practice that voting rights groups say unfairly targets minority voters. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department would often go to court to stop states from taking steps like those. But 18 months into President Trump’s term, there are signs of change: The department has launched no new efforts to roll back state restrictions on the ability to vote, and instead often sides with them. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the department has filed legal briefs in support of states that are resisting court orders to rein in voter ID requirements, stop aggressive purges of voter rolls and redraw political boundaries that have unfairly diluted minority voting power — all practices that were opposed under President Obama’s attorneys general.
The Sessions department’s most prominent voting-rights lawsuit so far forced Kentucky state officials last month to step up the culling from registration rolls of voters who have moved.
In the national battle over voting rights, the fighting is done in court, state by state, over rules that can seem arcane but have the potential to sway the outcome of elections. The Justice Department’s recent actions point to a decided shift in policy at the federal level: toward an agenda embraced by conservatives who say they want to prevent voter fraud.
“They’re showing deference to the states when it comes to issues like voter ID,” said Logan Churchwell, a spokesman for the conservative Public Interest Legal Foundation, which advocates tighter restrictions on voter registration. “If a state sees the need for a prophylactic capability to prevent fraud, then it can.”