Politics

Voter Suppression Battles To Watch In 2016

CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

Pedestrians pass voting signs near an early voting polling site, in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014.

As presidential candidates begin the year by gearing up for primary season, Republican-controlled state houses and lawmakers across the country are doing everything they can to suppress votes and to swing elections in their favor.

The candidates can hold as many rallies, town halls, and events as they want in the next ten months, but nothing will be as effective in swinging the election as preventing people from voting. The 2016 election will be the first presidential contest in decades without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.

Already, discriminatory voting laws have prevented low-income people, minorities, and students from voting during midterm and local elections. While voter fraud is exceedingly rare, more than 500 ballots were thrown out in Texas alone in 2014 and hundreds more were disenfranchised because of voter ID requirements. While some state laws are being disputed in court, it’s possible that there will be even more laws on the books by the end of the year that make it harder for Americans to cast ballots.

Here are some voter suppression battles to keep an eye on in 2016:

Voter ID Laws

As of this month, a total of 36 states have passed laws requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls, and 33 of those states will enforce their laws in 2016. A number of the state’s provisions are being challenged in court, and litigation in Texas and North Carolina could determine the courts’ ability to apply the VRA after its vital provisions were gutted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. North Carolina’s case is scheduled to be heard later this month, and officials in Texas are currently pushing for an appeal after a panel ruled last year that the state’s law is discriminatory.

While current voter ID laws are being challenged, other states are considering adding even more restrictions. Pending legislation in Missouri would require voters to present a form of government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote, a renewed effort after a state courts struck down a previous voter ID law. During the 2015 legislative session, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting were introduced or carried over in 33 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Efforts To Make Getting An ID Even Harder

Wisconsin currently has one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country and requires voters to present a photo ID card. Last week, two Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin began circulating a proposal to prohibit county and town governments from issuing or spending money on photo identification cards. The law would also prohibit IDs issued by cities or villages from being used to vote. Voting advocates say the proposal directly targets a plan recently approved by Milwaukee officials to issue local identification cards to the homeless, undocumented immigrants, and other residents unable to obtain state driver’s licenses or other government-issued ID cards.

Other states also limit the types of IDs that can be used to vote in efforts to make it even harder for people to produce an ID. Later this year, a federal appeals court will hear arguments in the American Civil Liberty Union’s case against Wisconsin, which alleges that the rejection of U.S. Veterans Administration ID cards discriminates against homeless veterans and others without photo ID.

And last year, a year after enacting a voter ID law, Alabama shuttered 31 driver’s license offices — most of them in rural, impoverished, majority-black counties. Civil rights groups have filed suit, arguing that the change disproportionately affects racial minorities.

Limited Voting And Registration Hours

Marc Ellis, an attorney for Hillary Clinton, has filed two lawsuits in Ohio and Wisconsin challenging voting restrictions in both states. in Ohio, the litigation targets the elimination of same-day registration and cuts to early voting hours. And in Wisconsin, his lawsuit takes aim at cuts to early voting days and the state’s voter ID provision. Though the Clinton campaign is not connected to the lawsuits, the Democratic candidate has been vocal about the importance of expanding access to the polls.

And a North Carolina judge heard arguments last year in a case challenging the state’s cuts to early voting days and its elimination of same-day registration. A decision will be issued at some point this year, and an appeal could end up before the Supreme Court.

Proof of Citizenship

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been leading his state’s crusade against virtually non-existent voter fraud for years, but this year, a judge will hear arguments in a lawsuit against his proof of citizenship law. Kansas currently has a two-tiered voting system because voters who use the federal registration form cannot vote in state or local elections until they provide proof of citizenship — a step the federal government does not require. Kobach, the only voting official in the country with prosecutorial power, will also continue to press charges against three state residents who accidentally cast ballots in multiple locations.