In a major victory for voting rights, Judge Robert Simpson of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled today that voters in the state do not need to show government-issued ID in order to cast a ballot in November. A full trial is scheduled for after the election to determine whether a permanent injunction will be issued against the state’s voter ID law. By my count, Pennsylvania is one of eleven voter suppression laws passed by Republicans since the 2010 election that have been invalidated by state or federal courts in the past year, including in crucial swing states like Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin. (Click graphics to enlarge.)
“It is a remarkable development that courts across the country have almost uniformly rejected every single law passed making it harder for eligible citizens to vote,” says Wendy Weiser, director of the democracy program at the Brennan Center. “This is a clear rejection of attempts by politicians to manipulate the election rules for political gain.”
Below are details on the overturned laws, by category.
Voter ID Laws. Courts have nullified voter ID laws in Wisconsin and Texas (and, for now, in Pennsylvania), and a voter ID ballot initiative in Missouri. South Carolina’s law is blocked pending federal approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Voter Registration. A federal court overturned Florida’s restrictions on voter registration drives for violating the First Amendment. Voters in Maine also repealed a ban on Election Day voter registration.
Early Voting. After public outcry, the Ohio legislature repealed its own legislation cutting back on early voting days, but kept a ban on three days of early voting before the election, which a state court subsequently overturned (Ohio is appealing). A federal court blocked early voting limits in Florida in five counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act for discriminating against African-American voters.
Voter Purges. A district court in Iowa blocked an attempt by Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz to purge so-called “non-citizen” voters from the rolls.
Student Voting. A New Hampshire court ruled that students do not have to register their car in the state in order to cast a ballot.
Provisional Ballots. An Ohio judge ruled that provisional ballots mistakenly cast in the wrong precinct must be counted.
It’s important to note, however, that voter suppression laws passed since 2010 have not been blocked unanimously. Kansas and Tennessee have new strict voter ID laws on the books for 2012, and Rhode Island and Virginia mandated looser voter ID laws (allowing some forms on non-photo ID). A strict voter ID initiative is on the ballot this November in Minnesota. Restrictions on voter registration drives are still in place in Texas (the law was blocked in district court, but reinstated on appeal). Early voting periods have been limited in Tennessee, West Virginia and most of Florida (excluding the five counties subject to Section 5). Ex-felons will be unable to cast a ballot upon release in Florida and Iowa. Florida has resumed its stalled voter purge, albeit on a smaller scale, and without the cooperation of local election officials. (For more details, see this comprehensive summary on voting law changes from the Brennan Center.)
That said, the pushback against these laws in court has been rather extraordinary, sending a strong signal that restrictions on the right to vote are unconstitutional, discriminatory and unnecessary.