In the last week the battle over voting has extended from the narrow view of the presidential election to how voter ID laws and Section 5 of the VRA will be interpreted by the courts. This has been made clear by two recent actions.
First, the US Supreme Court is back in session and is likely to hear arguments from the state of Alabama against the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 5, which only applies to certain states (mostly in the South) and a few regions elsewhere in the country. Second, in PA, a state appeals court judge overturned PA’s voter ID law but just for the general election on November 6th. Prior to the decision the same judge had ruled the law constitutional until it was kicked back down to him by the state Supreme Court.
According to the NCSL website the states of GA, IN, KS and TN had strict voter ID laws in effect. The states of FL, HI, ID, LA, MI, HI and SD also have less stringent Photo ID laws in effect. Several states are awaiting either preclearance from the DOJ on new Photo ID laws or judicial approval. These states are MISS, PA, SC, WI,TX and AL. In a plethora of other states including Missouri, North Carolina, Minnesota, the GOP controlled legislature passed Photo ID bills but were vetoed by the Democratic Governors of those states. In many other states photo ID legislation was considered and come 2013 there is a very likely possibility Maine will implement a new Photo ID law.
This issue, like many over election integrity, has been simmering since 2006 and 2008 when ACORN was allegedly involved in helping Democrats win seats by committing election fraud. In the 2008 MN Senate race an independent study found election fraud gave Democratic Senator Al Franken the election over Norm Coleman (R). In 2011, after the GOP wave of 2010 many GOP controlled states went about trying to limit the opportunity for voter fraud to occur.
The most notable battles have occurred between the DOJ and states such as TX and SC. In both cases the DOJ has come down hard and said they would not approve the states new Photo ID laws under Section V of the VRA. In Florida, the DOJ has taken issue with the state purging its voter rolls so close to an election. In the cases of WI and PA the DOJ has threatened action though that seems to be delayed with state courts ruling the laws unconstitutional or invalid for 2012.
Both sides are armed with tons of research. Civil rights groups and Democrats fear Photo ID laws will disproportionately affect the poor. It is widely believed the poor are the strongest bloc of the Democratic base (not so anymore). Republicans and many election officials disagree saying that they are simply protecting the integrity of elections. In PA, SC and TX residents can go down to a local state office and get a government issued ID to vote for free. But that satisfies few on the left.
Cries of racism and vote suppression can be heard among African-American leadership. Among Hispanics the response is more muted, minus La Raza and far left civil rights and labor groups. Yet among the general public, even Hispanics and African-Americans, there is widespread support for such laws. In a WashPO poll on the issue a majority of Republicans, Democrats and Independents supported such laws as did every ideological group except liberals (48%). Even among those with incomes below $25,000 there was strong support.
But when viewed through a partisan lens support becomes less clear. Slightly more than half of voters said voter fraud was more important than voter suppression. Among Republicans and Democrats there was a deep divide. Yet 56% of voters said Voter ID laws were not being passed for partisan benefit and 44% disagreed, including notably six in 10 African-Americans.
One fact seems to fly in the face if voter suppression however. Many states are promoting early voting as a way to increase turnout and lower election costs. Mailing out ballots to citizens in every state, as the state of deeply polarized Arizona is doing, seems to fly in the face of trying to suppress voter turnout.
The debate has yet to be settled. Depending on a SCOTUS case on the VRA act either from TX or AL the entire argument could become an even bigger political issue. Perhaps it is time the VRA was done away with, perhaps not and perhaps Voter ID Laws help secure election integrity or discourage voter turnout or perhaps not. Either way however, it is yet another political issue that divides Americans.