September 9, 2012

GOP loses suits over voting rules as battleground-state cases loom

Rulings on laws in Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania could tip the election.

By Tom Schoenberg Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON - Republicans are losing most of the court fights with Democrats over whether GOP-backed state voter regulations will illegally suppress turnout among the poor and minorities in the Nov. 6 presidential contest.

click image to enlarge

Viviette Applewhite, 93, a plaintiff in a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s voter identification law, speaks in a video played at a news conference in May in Harrisburg, as attorney Witold Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union listens. The case is headed for the state supreme court.

The Associated Press

As the general election begins in earnest, legal battles continue in six swing states where court challenges await decisions by state and federal judges.

Last month, U.S. courts rejected election-related laws passed by GOP-controlled legislatures in Ohio, Florida and Texas, finding they violated the right to vote.

At least 14 cases challenging voter-list purges, provisional-ballot rules, early-voting curbs or photo ID mandates are pending in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa, Florida and Ohio.

Court rulings in those states, which both parties claim they can win in November, could tip the presidential election if the race is as close as it was in 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush, said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine.

"If the outcome depends on Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania is extremely close, then these kinds of cases can be determinative," said Hasen, author of "The Voting Wars: From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown."

Much of the litigation stems from revisions of election procedures Republican lawmakers passed after President Obama's election in 2008.

Proponents argue the laws are necessary to prevent fraud and help elections run smoothly. Democrats and voter advocacy groups say the measures are aimed at disenfranchising likely Democratic voters in a veiled effort to limit turnout for Obama.

Besides the cases in so-called battleground states, at least eight more challenges to election law procedures are pending in state and federal courts. Of those in swing states, at least five are in Florida. Another four are under way in Ohio.

Last month, in seven court rulings voiding Republican-sponsored measures, federal judges rejected new limits on early voting in Ohio, turned down a requirement for photographic identification in Texas, and blocked "burdensome" rules regulating voter-registration drives in Florida and Texas. The Texas ruling on registration was put on hold Thursday by a federal court in New Orleans.

Additionally, a panel of three federal judges ruled electoral districts drawn by Texas' Republican-controlled legislature discriminated against minorities in violation of the Voting Rights Act. A judge-approved interim map is set to be used instead.

The August rulings were handed down by seven judges appointed by Democratic President Clinton, three nominated by Obama and two chosen by Republican President George W. Bush.

A state judge in Iowa heard arguments Thursday over challenges to Republican-backed rules there aimed at purging non-citizens from the rolls.

In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, is waiting to hear whether that state's Supreme Court will consider his appeal to reinstate a photo ID law that was blocked by two judges.

The Ohio battle over early voting and provisional ballots illustrates what's at stake in the election litigation. No Republican has been elected president without carrying that state's 18 electoral votes.

A federal judge in Ohio, ruling Aug. 31 in a lawsuit brought by the Obama campaign, ordered the restoration of three days of early voting that the Republican-controlled legislature cut back. In that case, Obama for America claimed that, in the three days leading up to the 2008 election, 93,000 Ohio voters cast their ballots.

Four days earlier, another judge in Ohio ruled provisional ballots can't be thrown out if they're filed in the wrong precinct because of poll-worker error. In 2008, Ohio rejected 14,355 so-called wrong-precinct ballots, according to the judge's decision.

Across the country, there are at least eight challenges to state voter-identification laws, six to state redistricting plans, four to early-voting restrictions, four to voter roll purges, two to registration rules and two to ballot disqualification measures.

(Continued on page 2)

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