Strict Voter ID Blocked for 2012 - But What About the Future?

PHOTO: American flag flies in front of the Supreme Court in Washington in this June 27, 2012 file photo.
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Opponents of strict voter ID laws have had a good run in the courts recently.

In the past few months, federal and state judges have used different legal grounds to block voter ID laws from going into effect during the next election in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin.

On Oct. 10, a federal court blocked South Carolina's law for the next election.

But in many cases, the rulings are only temporary halts or are subject to appeal. In fact, in the case of South Carolina, the court is allowing that law to go into effect in 2013.

Opponents of strict voter ID laws fear that the battle is just beginning.

"Since 2011, there have been a slew of new restrictive voter ID laws that have the potential to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters," said Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, director of Voter Protection for Advancement, a group involved in challenges in several of the states. "We've fought back and won against the most restrictive being put in effect before this election. But we are still extremely concerned."

She is worried about states appealing injunctions and other states passing new laws.

"Our nation's great debate and controversy over voter ID laws will continue," she said. "We need to keep on fighting and winning."

Thirty-one states have requirements for all eligible voters to show identification prior to casting a ballot in the upcoming election, but the acceptable forms of documentation vary. Some states are satisfied if a voter brings in a recent utility bill. Others insist on government-issued photo identification.

The more strict photo ID laws have been passed by Republican legislatures that argue they are meant to combat voter impersonation at a polling place. Democrats argue there is no real problem with voter fraud and the real goal of the laws is to suppress the votes of the poor or the elderly who might have difficulty obtaining the necessary identification.

"Some Republican legislatures just got too greedy," said Daniel P. Tokaji of Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. "They passed very strict laws that were clearly designed to depress turnout. There wasn't much of a credible reason offered for some of these laws and the courts called them on it. The courts smelled a rat."

But Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network said that the judges, in some cases, were concerned with the proximity of the next election and wanted to make sure the eventual rollout of the new laws would go smoothly.

"In the case of Pennsylvania, the timing before the election is really tangential to the challenge," Severino said. "The laws may not be able to be put in effect for this election, but they certainly ought to be for future elections. Practically speaking, Americans use photo IDs in numerous aspects of their lives. As long as the states are providing free options for those who don't yet have IDs, there shouldn't be a concern."

The strict voter ID challenges across the country have been brought on different provisions of state and federal law.

The cases in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin dealt with claims that the laws were a violation of the state constitutions.

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