11 Court Decisions In 8 States Blocked Or Weakened New Voter Suppression Laws

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"11 Court Decisions In 8 States Blocked Or Weakened New Voter Suppression Laws"

Pushback to state voter suppression campaigns has had a dramatic effect in curbing many of the worst new laws, and courts have played a particularly significant role, concludes a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice,

Since January 2011, at least 180 bills have been introduced in 41 states, but those numbers have been whittled down to 18 new laws and executive actions in 13 states that would make it harder for eligible citizens to vote this election cycle. Below are some of the major victories, from the Brennan Center’s report:

  • Restrictive photo ID requirements have been blocked in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin, and vetoed in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina;
  • Punitive regulations of voter registration drives have been permanently blocked in Florida and vetoed in Michigan;
  • Cutbacks to early voting have been blocked in Ohio and mitigated in Florida;
  • A law that required documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote has been blocked in Arizona; and
  • Laws that would have cut back on voter registration opportunities have been repealed in Maine and Ohio, and vetoed in Montana.

The courts played a particularly significant role in achieving this, with 11 court decisions in eight states that blocked or weakened these laws. The report explains:

Taken together, these decisions dismantle the bulk of the most restrictive new voting laws that would have been in place for the 2012 elections. The states that saw restrictive laws blocked or blunted by courts produce half the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Without the courts, millions of citizens would have found it harder to vote. This dramatically underscores the importance of the courts in protecting Americans’ fundamental right to vote.

These decisions are noteworthy not only for their overall effect on voters but also for the sheer consistency of results. As noted, almost every court to have considered a law or policy making it harder to vote blocked or mitigated it. There are exceptions. Most notably, a federal appeals court allowed severe restrictions on voter registration drives in Texas to stand; a state appeals court upheld Tennessee’s voter ID law in October 2012. But voters have won the vast majority of cases, at least for now.

Unfortunately, many of these victories were temporary orders, or are subject to appellate review after the election. The U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has demonstrated hostility to voter protections — it upheld an Indiana voter ID law in 2008, holding that the state did not need to prove that voter fraud actually existed in order to justify imposing the photo ID burden on voting. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, one of the few courts not to strike down its state’s photo ID law, cited this decision in upholding the state’s law. And the Roberts Court is poised to hear two more cases this term could usher in more voter suppression.

Even in states like Pennsylvania, where the court ultimately blocked the photo ID law, misleading public education campaigns and confusion over shifting requirements have so riddled the system that it’s hard to know how many people will be deterred from visiting the polls.

The following are some of the primary legal restrictions to voting (as distinguished from informal suppression efforts) that remain in effect this election, or have already influenced this election season’s voting:

  • Four states still have tighter rules for voter registration: Florida’s law was relaxed by a federal court, but this cannot take back the lost time to conduct voter registration drives. The other states are Texas, Illinois and Wisconsin.
  • Five states have photo ID laws in effect, although the allowable forms of identification vary significantly. New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Virginia have laxer requirements that allow voters without ID to sign an affidavit or submit a provisional ballot. Tennessee and Kansas, however, are requiring government-issued photo ID at the ballot box. Tennessee’s law was recently upheld by a state appeals court, although the state held that library Ids were an acceptable form of identification.
  • Florida, Iowa and South Dakota recently made it more difficult for citizens with past felon convictions to vote.
  • Early voting opportunities have been reduced in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia, although the extent of the restrictions varies between the states.
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