I try to bring it together at WaPo’s The Monkey Cage:
After a notable string of voting rights decisions in the past few weeks — throwing out or weakening voter identification and other restrictive voting laws in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and elsewhere — you might think that the rules are settled for November.
But the rules are far from settled. Things are very much in flux, and the possibility of disenfranchisement through confusion or reversals of recent gains remains. Indeed, just Wednesday an appeals court put on holda softening of Wisconsin’s voter ID law imposed a few weeks ago by a trial court….
Already some Republican commissioners in North Carolina want to roll back early voting. One newly-appointed Republican Commissioner in Wake County wants to stop Sunday voting (used by African-American voters in “souls to the polls” operations to take people to vote after church) and shut down a polling place at North Carolina State University. As Professor Michael McDonald argues, this is the very conduct that the 4th Circuit pointed to as discriminatory, and early voting cutbacks could serve as the basis for putting North Carolina back under federal supervision.
Things are also in flux in Wisconsin, where the state has appealed both of the district court rulings to the 7th Circuit. In one of the cases, the Seventh Circuit panel just put the affidavit option on hold for the 2016 elections, ruling it was too broad a remedy to deal with the special burdens some voters face in getting ID. The case will now go to the full 7th Circuit, where the results could be better for voting rights advocates. Crucially, in the first round of litigation which upheld the law, the entire 7th Circuit divided 5-5 on whether to take up the case again. Now, one of the judges against review has retired, leaving a 5-4 majority skeptical of Wisconsin’s voting rules, and a chance the affidavit requirement will soon be restored for the 2016 elections.
Wisconsin, like North Carolina, could end up taking its case to the Supreme Court on an emergency basis. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court is divided 4-4 on ideological grounds, and that could mean a split over how to deal with these voting cases. A tie leaves the lower court ruling standing.
The bottom line is that there’s still great uncertainty about the rules for voting in these key states. The longer this goes on, the harder it will be not just for those who run the election but for voters looking forward to participating in November’s key election.