There is a scene in the most recent series of Veep – an American spin off from The Thick of It – where the Republicans and Democrats are haggling in court over whether to carry on counting presidential election votes in Nevada. Of course this is pretty much what happened in 2000 when the world waited for the United States to decide who actually won the election after the hanging chads fiasco. Even ahead of a vote being cast in November, there are signs that the election will not just be fought in the court of pubic opinion, but ordinary law courts as well. If 2000 was messy, it was but an amuse bouche for what is happening at the moment. The seeds were sown by the Supreme Court in 2013 when it effectively gutted the Voting Rights Act, regarded by many as the crowning achievement of LBJ. Prior to the ruling, states deemed to have a history of voter discrimination – a polite way of saying stopping blacks from voting in the deep South up to the 1960s – had to get federal clearance before changing electoral laws. This was swept away by the Supreme Court and a number of states are tightening up their legislation.
The changes are nowhere near as blatant or discriminatory as in the bad old days when black voters might be asked to recite the entire US constitution to satisfy local literacy requirements in some southern states. Now these changes are more subtle, with voter identification laws being tightened. Supporters of the reforms say they are necessary to combat fraud.
Opponents say they are designed to make it that bit harder for poorer, more transient, voters to exercise their democratic rights. They argue the changes discriminate against black and Latino voters – who are more likely to back Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump.