The Obama administration's battle to end voter identification laws is in full swing across courtrooms of America, just as people prepare to head to the ballot box next month. Proponents of voter ID say the requirements are important to guard against election fraud and that those trying to eliminate them are fighting a losing battle. Opponents say the laws disenfranchise citizens and have won their own victories.
State battles over voter ID continue for now. There are winners and losers, and along with divisive court decisions come appeals to contest the rulings.
Earlier this week, the Arkansas Supreme Court unanimously declared the state's voter identification law to be unconstitutional. The justices said that Arkansas’s current law, which requires voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls, "imposes a requirement that falls outside" the four qualifications outlined in the state's constitution. In their 20-page opinion, the justices said the state constitution only requires a voter be a U.S. citizen, an Arkansas resident, 18 years old and registered to vote. The decision is expected to be appealed.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official under George W. Bush and the head of the Heritage Foundation's Election Law Reform Initiative, said Democratic arguments likening voter ID requirements to Jim Crow laws are grounded in "absolute myth."
"Those who oppose voter identification are misinterpreting section two of the Voting Rights Act," the landmark federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, Spakovsky said. "The academics they're using to provide the sky is falling predications are a complete fallacy. These are all the same people who were predicting that eight years ago in Georgia and Indiana, where voter ID was passed, we'd see a decrease in voter turn out. They were wrong. Activists, liberal judges listening to activists and liberal academics don't base their facts on anything that's tangible. Voter ID laws give citizens faith in the system and reduce fraud in elections."
On Tuesday, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Texas to enforce its new voter ID law, overruling liberal U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi who last week called the current law to require identification "draconian."
Ramos said the law was discriminatory and is reminiscent of Texas law in 1895 that required all-white "primaries, the poll tax and literacy tests."
"No surprise in Corpus Christi," Spakovsky said. "She made a very basic mistake when she said voter identification is like a poll tax. It has already been decided by the courts that it’s not."
He said the fight shows "quite frankly, how foolish the opponents of voter identification are in the United States, which is one of the few Western nations that doesn't require identification to vote. In almost every other country, they require some type of identification to participate in elections. Even Mexico requires voters to have identification at the polls, and it has a much larger population in poverty."
Arizona and Kansas also have a case pending to get the federal government to change its registration form to reflect that voters must show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The case is currently before a federal appeals court, with a decision expected to be delivered before Election Day. If the registration forms are not changed, voters that use the federal registration form won't be allowed to vote if they don't have proof of citizenship.
A voter walks past a "Please Have Photo ID Ready" sign as he enters an early-voting polling place in downtown Little Rock, Ark., May 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File) AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File
Here's a brief timeline on the evolution of voter ID laws:
• April 29, 2008: The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law. The justices said a requirement to produce photo ID is not unconstitutional and noted that the state has a “valid interest” in working to eliminate fraud at the election booth.
• May 2011: 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker. The law required voters to show some form of legal photo identification in order to vote.
• November 2011: Texas and South Carolina submitted their voter ID laws to the Justice Department. Texas' law was enacted as an effort to have photo Voter ID ready for the 2012 elections.
• Nov. 17, 2011: Texas voter ID stalled by Justice Department. The DOJ said it needed more information regarding minority voters to see if the new law would violate minority civil rights. The Texas law required all registered voters to present a drivers’ license or government-issued picture ID to cast a ballot.
• December 2011: Attorney General Eric Holder blocks South Carolina’s voter ID law. During this time, Texas is also up against the Justice Department.
• Oct. 11, 2012: A three-judge panel in federal district court in Washington, D.C., found that South Carolina’s law requiring voters to show photo ID at polling stations was not discriminatory to blacks. The Justice Department said the law disenfranchised minorities.
• June 2013: Supreme Court decision in Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric Holder removed a provision in the landmark 1965 Voting Right's Act that certain jurisdictions, including former Confederate states, to get preclearance from the Department of Justice before making changes to election laws and redistricting maps.
• July 2013: Holder told the National Urban League that he would fight Texas' new voter ID laws. Holder said the court’s reasoning in Shelby County v. Holder was “flawed," according to Time magazine. Holder said he would find a way to battle the Texas law by presenting specific cases of minority disenfranchisement to the courts as a step to getting preclearance for any new laws proposed by Texas.
• April 2014: A federal judge in Wisconsin struck the state's voter ID law down. The court issued an injunction to block the voter ID law during the appeals process.
• September 2014: A three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction on the Wisconsin voting law, allowing it to stay in place during the appeal.
• Oct. 9, 2014: A federal court in Texas struck down its voter ID law on the basis that it had a discriminatory effect on minority voters. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, said he would appeal.
• Oct. 9, 2014: U.S. Supreme Court upholds North Carolina's voter ID law. No same-day registration is allowed for early voting. Election Day ballots cast in the wrong precinct won't be counted in the coming November elections. The full law will be enforced. Those who challenged the law are preparing for trial next summer.
• Oct. 14, 2014: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court allowed Texas to enforce its current voter ID laws, overruling U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who had called the current law to require identification is "draconian."
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