Voter ID Laws

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court  on Tuesday  said a new state law must be voided if would-be voters are denied easy access to photo ID cards needed to cast ballots. Sending the case back down to a trial judge, the justices said the law could stay in force only if the lower court finds there is no voter disenfranchisement.  The Pennsylvania statute was one in a wave of voter ID laws intentionally designed to keep voters away from polls. Sen. Bernie Sanders has asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate what he called an "alarming number" of new state laws that would make it  "significantly harder" for millions of eligible voters to cast ballots this November.

The GAO plans to release a report later this month detailing current voter registration requirements and voting laws in all 50 states and how these laws have changed over the past decade. A second GAO report will be issued next year analyzing the impact that these changes have had on voters' ability to exercise their voting rights.

Since the 2010 elections, more than a dozen states with Republican governors and Republican majorities in their legislatures, have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods, imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives or redrawing electoral maps.

The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that obtaining proper voter ID in the affected states was difficult. More than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from the nearest office where they could get an ID. Many of the offices maintain limited hours and, despite pledges to make voter ID free, birth and marriage certificates, often needed for the process, cost $8 to $25.

Federal and state courts in recent weeks have begun to strike down some of the new state laws.

  • A federal court agreed with the Justice Department that Texas' voter ID law was discriminatory.
  • In Ohio, early voting was restored and rules restricting voter registration drives have been struck down.
  • The Justice Department blocked a new South Carolina voter ID law because it would suppress minority voter turnout. The state has appealed to a federal court in Washington.
  • In Florida, a federal court ruled that a new state law that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from 12 could not be enforced in Florida counties covered under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • In Wisconsin, a voter identification requirement was struck down but that ruling was expected to be appealed.
  • The Indiana Supreme Court upheld that state's voter identification law in 2008. While that court found no evidence of the fraud the law was intended to combat, it also found no evidence that the new requirements were a burden on voters.

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