The summer of 2016 is emerging as a disappointment for Republican legislatures that have passed legislation restricting their constituents’ right to vote. With jaw-dropping consistency, Courts composed of both moderate and conservative jurists across the country have concluded that the argument that widespread voter fraud necessitates enacting voting restrictions is specious. The Courts stated that these voting restrictions were implemented with explicit intent to discourage minority voters, often Democrats, from casting their ballots. Since 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted the most effective enforcement tools in the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Republican-controlled southern and western states have enacted laws narrowing voting procedures and voting making more and more difficult.
On August 1, a federal judge blocked the photo ID requirement for voters in North Dakota, ruling the law burdens the Native American minority. The court noted that there is no undisputed evidence of voter fraud in North Dakota, undercutting the state’s justification for the voter ID law.
On July 29 the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned North Carolina’s sweeping voter ID law. The law shortened the early voting period, banned same-day registration and narrowed the list of acceptable IDs.
On July 29, a U.S. district judge struck down parts of the Wisconsin’s strict voter ID law,as well as other election laws passed by the Republican state lawmakers. He found unconstitutional: limits on early voting, a requirement that people live in a ward for 28 days before voting, prohibiting expired student IDs and banning emailed absentee ballots. The judge ruled that if a voter has difficulty obtaining an ID, that voter must be granted the required ID within 30 days, the Journal Sentinel reports.
On July 20, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’s strict voter-ID law discriminated against minority voters, ordering a lower court to put in place a remedy by November. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative in the country, declined to strike down the law, but held that the trial court must find and rectify its discriminatory effects so that those lacking the required ID be able to vote.
Nine of the 15 appellate judges upheld a district court’s finding that 600,000 people, disproportionately minorities, lack the ID required: a driver’s license, military ID, passport or weapons permit, for example, and would have difficulty securing any. The Court found that African-American, Hispanic and poor voters were likely to be disenfranchised.
On May 17, a judge ruled that Kansas citizens must be allowed to vote in state/local elections, even without proof of citizenship upon registration. Since 2013, Kansas has required residents to show proof-of-citizenship when registering to vote. But a several courts have blocked that requirement for federal elections. In response, the state set up a system allowing those without proof-of-citizenship to vote only in federal elections, not state/local elections. That was struck down earlier this year by a state judge. This May, a federal judge ordered the state to register the approximately 18,000 voters whose registrations were suspended. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has appealed. He argues that the law is needed to stop undocumented immigrants from voting…Kobach has ordered that the suspended voters be registered only for federal elections. On July 29, just before the state election primaries, a county judge overturned Kobach’s order. His oral ruling was that votes from people who didn’t show proof-of-citizenship must be counted in all elections.
In Ohio, judges ruled earlier this summer that the state couldn’t eliminate a week of early voting or change laws governing how absentee and provisional ballots are counted.
Voter ID laws aren’t the only voting-rights cases that have landed in the courts this summer. On July 22, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that Gov. McAuliffe had no authority to restore voting rights to hundreds of thousands of felons at once; McAuliffe pledges to restore those rights individually.
Every year since elected to the House of Delegates, I have filed and supported legislation simplifying voting and voter registration and increasing accessibility in many ways: expanding early voting, lengthening the time polls are open, and streamlining absentee voter procedures, particularly in emergencies. Each year these bills have been blocked by the majority party. I will continue to work to make voting less restrictive.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.