MIAMI — Tough new election laws aimed at forcing voters in many states to show photo identification at polling places have been blocked or delayed, delighting mostly Democratic opponents who claim they were among a variety of partisan attempts to keep minorities from voting.
Supporters of the measures nevertheless predict they will prevail in the long run. And court battles continue in some states even as the Nov. 6 election draws near.
The stakes are high especially in swing states where a close margin is expected in the race between President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney, as well as in numerous congressional and local campaigns. Other battles in key states such as Florida and Ohio have been fought over reductions in the number of early voting days and new restrictions on voter registration drives.
In the latest boon for Democrats, the U.S. Supreme Court this week cleared the way for voters in Ohio to cast ballots during the three days before Election Day, giving Mr. Obama’s campaign a victory three weeks before the election. The court refused a request by the state’s Republican elections chief and attorney general to get involved in a battle over early voting.
“It’s been a real remarkable string of victories,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice. “There is an overwhelming sense that the courts are skeptical of this push to restrict voting.”
Yet proponents of the laws, which they say help guarantee integrity in the election process, can point to some victories as well. For example, a panel of three federal judges ruled earlier this month that South Carolina’s new voter photo ID law complies with the 1965 Voting Rights Act and would not disenfranchise minorities. But the judges also said the law could not take effect until 2013.
“The long-term battle on this, opponents are losing that battle,” said Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington. Of voter ID laws, he said: “The majority of decisions have upheld it.”
The debate over the new laws focuses mainly on whether they might deter minority and elderly voters and those in lower economic classes from casting ballots. Photo IDs, for example, can require fees that some people can’t pay. Shortening early voting days could disenfranchise minorities, particularly blacks who have embraced the practice in many states. Restrictions on registration drives could disproportionately affect minority populations that register at lower percentages than others.
In that view, according to University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, the laws “have intentionally tried to crack down on the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities.”
Supporters say such concerns are overblown and that such steps are critical to keep ineligible people from voting.
“How can you be against election integrity?” said Catherine Engelbrecht, president of the Houston-based True The Vote group that is monitoring elections and challenging the validity of voter rolls in numerous states.
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