State Voting Laws Face Challenges

WASHINGTON, D.C.—With less than a month before the Nov. 4 midterm elections, voting laws in eight states are being challenged in state and federal courts, often going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. These recent court challenges are due, for the most part, to varying state’s interpretation of two Supreme Court decisions in recent years.

In 2008, the high court ruled in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that an Indiana law requiring voters to provide photo IDs at the polls did not violate the U.S. Constitution. In the 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder the court blocked two provisions of the Voting Rights Act: Section 5, which required select states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contained the coverage formula that determined which select jurisdictions were subjected to preclearance based on its voting discrimination history.

State Voting Law Updates

  • On Oct. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Seventh Circuit’s ruling by blocking Wisconsin from implementing a state law requiring all registered voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The court issued a one-page order indirectly invoking the Purcell v. Gonzalez principle, stating the troubling consequences for a jurisdiction to change election rules so close to the upcoming midterm elections.
  • Also on Oct. 9, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos agreed with the plaintiffs, the U.S. Justice Department and multiple civil rights groups by blocking Texas’ 2013 voter ID law. Ramos wrote in her opinion that the Texas law violates the Equal Protection clause, is a poll tax, violates the Voting Rights Act and engages in enough intentional discrimination to be placed under U.S. Justice Department preclearance oversight. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would appeal the ruling.
  • On Oct. 8, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s recent opinion, which would have allowed North Carolina to fully execute its 2013 voting law banning same-day voter registration and the counting of registered voters’ provisional ballots, even if the ballot was cast outside a voter’s assigned Election Day polling precinct. The U.S. Supreme Court’s order is not permanent and provides North Carolina time to file an appeal. If the court grants review of the state’s appeal, the postponement will remain in effect until there is a decision, which will occur most likely after the Nov. 4 midterm elections. North Carolina’s 2013 voting law is considered by many analysts to be one of the most comprehensive state voting laws in the country, eliminating preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds and requiring all registered voters to present government-issued photo IDs at the polls.
  • On Oct. 2, the Arkansas Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments concerning a challenge to Arkansas’ 2013 voter ID law that was implemented for the first time in 2014. An Arkansas state judge ruled earlier this year that the Arkansas voter ID law violated the state constitution by imposing new qualifications for voting.
  • On Sept. 29, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision blocked the ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District that would have restored seven days of early voting and same-day registration in Ohio, a period popularly known as “Golden Week.”                                                    
  • On Aug. 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver heard arguments concerning the constitutionality of laws in Arizona and Kansas requiring voters to prove citizenship by presenting either a passport or birth certificate before being allowed to register to vote, a stricter standard than federal law, which requires a voter to affirm U.S. citizenship in writing.
  • In March 2014, an Iowa state court struck down Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz’s administrative policies implementing new procedures for identifying and removing ineligible voters from the state’s voter registration system, ruling that the secretary lacked the statutory authority for such measures. The case has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court.

To help state policymakers better understand the voting law challenges occurring across the nation, CSG will host a webinar at 2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 23, featuring Dan Tokaji, a constitutional law professor at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, and Rick Hansen, professor of law and political science at the University of California-Irvine. Register for the webinar here