Two Courts Overturn Voter Suppression Laws

In the last week, federal courts have delivered major victories against voter-suppression legislation that seeks to disenfranchise millions of registered voters this November.

A federal appeals court struck down a voter I.D. law in Texas last Thursday, ruling that it violated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority voters. The three-judge panel ruled that the state failed to prove that the law, which required registered voters to present a government-issued photo I.D. at the polls, would not detrimentally affect minorities. In fact, the federal judges said the I.D. requirement would have a “retrogressive effect”—one that could possibly sway the electoral votes.

According to the appeals court, out of the nearly 800,000 Texas voters sampled, Hispanic and African American voters were twice as likely to lack a government-issued photo I.D. than non-Hispanic voters. The court also took into account Texas’ “legacy of discrimination” against Latinos and decided that since racial minorities in Texas disproportionately live in poverty, obtaining a proper photo I.D. would have an undue burden on the poor.

The ruling came two days after a separate three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., found that Texas’ redistricting plan for its Congressional and state legislature districts were also discriminatory.

Meanwhile, in the pivotal electoral swing state of Ohio, a federal judge granted an injunction on Friday to block a new law that cut short the deadline for in-person early voting at the Friday evening before Election Day. The law, passed in 2011 by the conservative state legislature, only made exemptions for military personnel and overseas voters. The Obama campaign, the Democratic National Committee and the Ohio Democratic Party challenged the measure, claiming it significantly limited access to the polls.

The federal injunction will restore three early voting days in the state, giving all registered voters in the state until Monday, Nov. 5, to cast their ballots.

Voter suppression tends to be looked at as a practice of the past, obliterated with the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s. But since 2011, a wave of 180 voting restrictions were introduced in 41 state legislatures, revealing the many forms voter suppression can take: photo I.D. and proof of citizenship requirements, and the elimination of in-person registration and early voting.

In the wake of the 2000 presidential election recount debacle, these laws are supposedly meant to eliminate voter fraud—a crime purported to be a growing trend yet lacking statistical evidence to be deemed as such. Those most hurt by the recently instituted stringent voter I.D. laws are minorities, the elderly, college students and voters in battleground states.

The recent court victories for voters’ rights can certainly help reverse the intended suppression of votes during the 2012 presidential election. Texas has the second-most electoral votes among the states (38), while Ohio delivers 18 electoral votes—and has a history of deciding the fate of presidential elections. In all, the 16 states that have passed voting laws since 2011 account for 214 electoral votes—79 percent of the total needed to secure the presidency. Notes the New York University School of Law Brennan Center for Justice, the laws could make it harder for more than 5 million eligible Americans to have their votes count—a number larger than the winning margin in two of the last three presidential elections.

Other voter suppression lawsuits in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Florida weren’t so lucky in the courts. However, there are still ways to combat voter suppression in your state. Check out to learn the voter requirements in your state, and make sure that you and your friends, neighbors and family members all know how to register and have their votes count at the polls. Regardless of location, socioeconomic status, race or age, no eligible American citizen should be denied the right to vote by having unnecessary hurdles thrown in their path to the polls.

 Photo from Flickr user Mortimer62 under Creative Commons 3.0.


Lauren Barbato is a writer who enjoys focusing on the intersection of the arts and social justice. As a journalist, she has contributed to Ms., the Women's Media Center, IndieWire, MovieMaker Magazine and many others. She holds a B.F.A. degree in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter @lauren_barbato.