Are Things Getting Better with Restrictive Voting Laws? The Answer is Unclear

I’ve spoken to a number of reporters in the last few weeks doing stories on whether the wave of restrictive voting laws coming out of mostly Republican legislatures seems to be cresting, and perhaps the situation is becoming better. Based upon this new Pam Fessler NPR story, it appears to be a point of view pushed by the Brennan Center.

Like Pam, I’m not so sure that’s right.

As I’ve chronicled, the 2012 elections saw both a popular and judicial backlash against some of the most restrictive voting rules passed mostly by Republican legislatures in the runup to the 2012 elections.  (That backlash included a number of voter id laws put on hold, and the Sixth Circuit use Bush v. Gore to limit Ohio cutbacks in early voting as well as restrictive rules on counting provisional ballots.)  At the end of the 2012 piece, I speculated that Republicans might see these restrictive rules as in tension with a desire to make the party more inclusive and thereby more competitive in presidential elections.  I pointed to both Florida’s restoration of some cut early voting time as well as WI Gov. Scott Walker’s backing away from an attempt to get rid of Wisconsin’s same day voter registration.

But that backing away in 2012 has faded away and we are seeing all kinds of new restrictions. Just today, Gov. Walker signed a bill cutting back on some (though not all that the legislature wanted) of early voting in Wisconsin. Kansas and Arizona (soon to be joined by other states) are now pushing for greater citizenship checks for voters registering using the federal form. Worse, the precedent set by the Kobach case could give states greater power to restrict registration and voting under the guise of enforcing “voter qualifications.”   Freed of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, North Carolina enacted the toughest set of voting restrictions in a single measure I can think of since at least the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Texas is aggressively enforcing its tough voter id law.  Both North Carolina and Texas are fighting hard against the Department of Justice’s Voting Rights Act lawsuits against the states. Prospects to restore through congressional legislation some of the protections of the Voting Rights Act lost through the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision are uncertain at best. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission, which has a crucial role in certifying voting technology and providing best practices for states and localities running elections, is still dead, thanks to a blockage by Republicans of nominees in the Senate.

So are things really getting better?  I think it is too early to say that, and some signs point in the opposite direction.


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