“How to Predict a Voting Rights Decision; The Supreme Court just made it harder to vote in some states and easier in others.”

I have written this piece for Slate.  It begins:

If you have been following developments at the Supreme Court in voting cases over the past few weeks, the results have been dizzying and apparently inconsistent. First the court blocked a lower court ruling that had restored a week of early voting in Ohio. Then the court blocked a lower court ruling that had restored North Carolina’s recently repealed provisions allowing for same-day voter registration and the counting of early voting. Then, Thursday night, the court blocked a lower court ruling that had put Wisconsin’s voter ID law into immediate effect, after lower courts had consistently blocked its use until voting rights challenges had run their course. And soon enough, the court may be asked to block147-page lower court ruling, issued late Thursday night, that held Texas’ voter ID law unconstitutional and a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Sometimes (as in Wisconsin) the Supreme Court has been protecting voters; at other times (as in Ohio and North Carolina) it appears to be protecting the ability of states to impose whatever voting rules they want.

But there is a consistent theme in the court’s actions, which we can call the “Purcell principle” after the 2006 Supreme Court case Purcell v. Gonzalez: Lower courts should be very reluctant to change the rules just before an election, because of the risk of voter confusion and chaos for election officials. The Texas case may raise the hardest issue under the Purcell principle, and how it gets resolved will matter a lot for these types of election challenges going forward.


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