Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Republican Voter Laws Face Scrutiny

There’s nothing funny about keeping people from voting, so I’m setting the satire aside for a day to bring the following important news:

With 35 days left before the U.S. presidential election, time is running out for judges to resolve voter access lawsuits in states including Ohio and Florida where a few thousand votes may be the margin of victory between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

A federal appeals court in Cincinnati is considering Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s bid to overturn rulings blocking Republican-sponsored restrictions on early voting and provisional ballots. In Pennsylvania, voters are waiting to hear whether courts will enforce laws requiring them to show photo identification at the polls.

Much of the litigation stems from revisions of election procedures Republican lawmakers passed after Obama’s election in 2008. Proponents argue the laws are needed to prevent fraud and help elections run smoothly. Democrats and voter advocacy groups claim the measures are aimed at disenfranchising probable Democratic voters in a veiled effort to limit turnout for Obama.

There are at least 15 cases pending nationwide over election law limits on early voting, voter registration and voter identification. Of those, almost half are in states where both candidates contend they can win. A majority of cases that have led to court rulings so far have been decided in favor of opponents to new restrictions.

In Wisconsin, opponents of a voter ID law won a court victory almost guaranteeing the requirement won’t be in place there for the Nov. 6 election.

“It’s not unprecedented to have these last-minute lawsuits over voting process,” Edward Foley, director of the election law program at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law in Columbus, said in a telephone interview. They’ve just snowballed since Bush v. Gore.” The presidential election in 2000 was decided in that case by the U.S. Supreme Court.

This month, Republican-sponsored measures continued to suffer adverse court rulings. Initiatives aimed at purging non- citizens from the rolls in Iowa and Texas were put on hold, while Pennsylvania’s voter ID law was sent back to a lower court for review. And New Hampshire was forced to end a plan to require college students to register their vehicles in the state in order to vote.

A federal judge in Ohio, ruling Aug. 31 in a lawsuit filed by Obama’s campaign, ordered the restoration of three days of early voting for all citizens that the Republican-controlled legislature cut back to members of the armed services and few others. In that case, Obama for America claimed as support for its case that, in the three days leading up to the 2008 election, 93,000 Ohio voters cast their ballots.

The judge ruled that it was unconstitutional to take away three days of early voting for most citizens in the state while allowing Ohioans serving in the military to have them.

DeWine, a Republican, appealed, arguing that Ohio has previously allowed such a distinction between military voters and civilian voters. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati agreed to expedite Ohio’s appeal, though it has yet to schedule an argument. Early voting in Ohio begins today.

Several U.S. military groups, including the National Guard Association of the U.S. and the Marine Corps League, have intervened in the case, supporting DeWine. The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative activist group, created a Facebook campaign alleging that the “lawsuit could reverse decades of military voting rights.” (source)

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