WASHINGTON - Stricter ID laws and other controversial voting restrictions, passed earlier this year by several Republican-controlled legislatures, are hitting legal roadblocks that could keep many of the measures from taking effect before the November elections.
Curbs on early voting, ID requirements and last-minute efforts to rid voter lists of noncitizens have been met with vigorous opposition from the Justice Department and civil rights groups, and in some cases, the provisions have been blocked by federal or state judges.
"There has been a real push-back by the courts to these widespread efforts to restrict the vote," said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, which opposes the new laws. "If those seeking to suppress the vote won round one, round two seems to be going to the voters."
Supporters of the laws argue they will ensure that elections are fair and cut down on the potential for voter fraud. Democrats contend the laws disproportionately affect voters who tend to vote for their candidates. But both parties are paying close attention to the legal fight over the laws in what is expected to be a close presidential race.
Among the most common changes were voter ID laws. Last year, new ID laws were introduced in 34 states and passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas tightened existing voter ID laws to require photo ID. Proposed laws in five other states, including Minnesota, were vetoed by their governors, according to the National Council of State Legislatures.
Since then, two state judges in Wisconsin have ruled its voter ID law unconstitutional. A court in Missouri threw out a ballot initiative that would have allowed voters to decide whether photo IDs should be required, calling the ballot language "misleading."
The Justice Department has challenged ID laws in South Carolina and Texas under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which could keep those laws from taking effect before November. Speaking to a group of black politicians and church leaders last week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said his department is committed to "aggressively enforcing the Voting Rights Act" and that it opposed the ID laws in South Carolina and Texas because of their disproportionate impact on minority voters.