Sept. 10, 2012 -- intro: Republicans call it "voter integrity." Democrats call it "voter suppression."
But how the courts will call the legal challenges to a buffet of state voting laws could have a very real impact on the election in November, and leave a lasting impact on American politics.
Here is a guide to the most important and controversial voter ID laws and restrictions on early in-person voting that supporters say will cut down on voter fraud and opponents say will deny many Americans, particularly minorities, of their rights.
Here are four cases to watch:
quicklist: 1title:Texas category:Voter IDtext:Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has vowed to appeal a ruling last week from a federal court in Washington that blocked Texas' Voter ID law from taking effect.
The court said the law was "the most stringent" in the county, and that it would impose "burdens on the poor."
The law was passed in 2011 by a Republican led legislature but is subject to approval by federal officials under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to have changes to voting laws preapproved by the Department of Justice or a federal court in Washington, D.C. The Texas law amends voting ID law, requiring voters to present photo IDs when voting in person. Accepted forms of photo ID include a driver's license, and certain other government-issued photo IDs. The law requires the Department of Public Safety to issue an election identification certificate free of charge to registered voters who do not have another form of ID required by the law. A voter without the required identification may cast a provisional ballot, which will only be counted if the voter returns with identification or executes an affidavit within six days of the election.
Supporters of the law argue that it was designed to help detect illegal conduct at the polling place and to deter those who attempt to interfere with the democratic process. They say that proving one's identity with a photo ID is a part of modern life. Opponents say the law narrows the categories of acceptable photo IDs, which will lead to voter suppression. They argue that while the law was meant to protect the integrity of the in-person voting process, there has been very little evidence of voter impersonation.
On Aug. 30, Judge David Tatel, writing for the court, blocked the voter ID law from taking effect. He ruled that under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the burden was on Texas to show that the law lacks a harmful effect. Tatel said, "Uncontested record evidence conclusively shows that the implicit costs of obtaining [qualifying ID] will fall most heavily on the poor, and that a disproportionately high percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics in Texas live in poverty."
Tatel emphasized in his opinion that the court had only ruled on the case at hand, and that other voter ID laws, which allow voters to present a wide range of documents, could be preapproved.
Next step: Texas announced it would appeal the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that for the next election, a photo ID would not be required.
quicklist: 2title: South Carolina category: Voter IDtext: A federal court in Washington is considering a challenge to South Carolina's voter ID law.
It was passed in May 2011 and signed into law by Gov. Nikki Haley. Like Texas, South Carolina is a covered jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act, and the law must be preapproved by federal authorities. The law requires South Carolinians who vote in person to present one of five forms of photo ID. If the voter is unable to present an acceptable form of identification, the act includes a provisional ballot procedure. The ballot will be counted so long as the voter brings the ID to the county board of registration and elections before certification. If the voter lacks a photo ID because of a "reasonable impediment," the voter may execute a simple affidavit and cast a provisional ballot, although critics of the law say that the "reasonable impediment" is not clearly defined.
South Carolina's case is being argued by Paul D. Clement, who challenged the Obama administration's health care law on behalf of 26 states. Clement has said in court papers that the "overwhelming majority" of Americans support photo ID requirements as a "commonsense" means of ensuring voting integrity.
Next step: Closing arguments in the case will take place in Washington on Sept. 24. The state attorney general told the court that if it preapproved the law, voters who didn't have enough time to get a photo ID could still vote under the "reasonable impediment" clause.
quicklist: 3title: Ohio category: Early Votingtext: U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economus ruled in favor of Obama campaign officials on Aug. 31, restoring early in-person voting rights to registered Ohio voters up to three days before the election.
Economus said that since 2005, all voters in the state had been allowed to vote in person three days before the election, and that the rules should not have been changed to restrict the early voting. "This court finds that 'in-person early voting' is a voting term that had included the right to vote in person through the Monday before Election Day, and now, thousands of voters who would have voted during those three days will not be able to exercise their right to cast a vote in person.
"Plaintiffs submit statistical studies to support their assertion that low-income and minority voters are disproportionately affected by the elimination of those voting days."
The Obama campaign had challenged the law, arguing that while the law allowed voters in the military the opportunity to vote three days before the election, it forbade others from doing so.
Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted argued in part that the law was necessary to address the needs of the Ohio elections board as it prepared for Election Day.
Next step: Husted has vowed to appeal the case to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, and he believes the issues will be resolved by Election Day.
quicklist:3title:Pennsylvaniacategory: Voter ID text: A judge on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the states' Voter ID law on Aug. 15.
The law requires in-person voters to provide one of several specified forms of photo ID. If a voter has a religious objection, the voter can present a nonphoto ID issued by the Department of Transportation. If the voter can't produce "proof of ID," the voter can cast a provisional ballot but is required to bring proof of ID and an affidavit within six days of the election.
The law requires the Department of Transportation to issue a free ID card to any registered voter who applies.
Supporters say the law improves the "security and integrity" of elections. In court papers they've stated they are "aware of reports indicating lists of registered voters who are in fact deceased or those who no longer reside in Pennsylvania," and that "the requirement of a photo ID is a tool to detect and deter voter fraud."
Opponents, in a lawsuit brought by several individuals who said they lacked an acceptable form of ID, claimed the law would disenfranchise and deter qualified citizens from exercising their fundamental right to vote expressly guaranteed by the Pennsylvania constitution, and that at trial attorneys for the state of Pennsylvania could not produce any examples of voter fraud in the state.
Judge Robert Simpson ruled against the petitioners' request of a preliminary injunction, saying the individuals "failed to persuade me" that they would prevail on the merits. Simpson wrote: "Based on the availability of absentee voting, provisional ballots and opportunities for judicial relief for those with special hardships, I am not convinced any of the individual petitioners or other witnesses will not have their votes counted in the general election."
Next step: The law is currently in effect, but arguments will be heard by the state Supreme Court Sept. 13.