On January 9, 2008, six days after Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to Indiana’s strict voter-ID law, the first of its kind. Ted Cruz, then solicitor general of Texas, filed a brief on behalf of Texas and seven other GOP-led states in support of the law.
Though Indiana presented no evidence of voter impersonation to justify the measure, Cruz wrote: “The specter of voter fraud has threatened the integrity of the electoral process for the entire history of our Nation.” Indiana did not have to show recent examples of such fraud, his brief argued, because “there is no right to be free from any inconvenience or burden in voting.”
Such burdens increased dramatically after the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s law and Obama was elected president. Since 2010, 21 states—nearly all of them under Republican control—have implemented new voting restrictions, and the Supreme Court has overturned the centerpiece of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). Cruz has been at the forefront of this new movement to make it harder to vote.
As a senator from Texas, Cruz has championed his state’s voter-ID law, the strictest in the country. The law—which allows voters presenting a handgun permit to cast a ballot, but not those with a student ID—has been blocked by federal courts on three occasions. Cruz’s website featured a petition calling on supporters to tell Obama: “Don’t Mess With Texas Voter ID Laws.”
Praising the Supreme Court decision that gutted the VRA, Cruz claimed it no longer subjected “democratically-elected state legislatures to second-guessing by unelected federal bureaucrats.” Two hours after the Court ruled, in a separate verdict, that states couldn’t require proof of citizenship for voter registration in federal elections, he filed an amendment to an immigration bill that would override the decision.
Despite his outspoken conservatism, Cruz is not an outlier in the GOP on voting rights. The leading Republican presidential candidates—who unanimously support tough new voting restrictions—have all opposed efforts to expand access to the ballot box.
As a senator from Florida—a state with a well-documented history of voter suppression—Marco Rubio opposed the restoration of voting rights for nonviolent ex-felons and supported his state’s cutbacks in early voting, which contributed to seven-hour lines during the 2012 election. That same year, he supported a controversial purge of voter rolls by Governor Rick Scott that was stopped by a federal court. Along with Cruz, Rubio also backed a Senate amendment requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote in federal elections.
The so-called moderates in the race are no better. In the pivotal swing state of Ohio, Governor John Kasich signed legislation that cut the window for early voting and eliminated same-day voter registration.