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Recent Rulings Alter Voting Laws Ahead Of November Election

Election worker Dorothy Davis checks a voter's ID during Arkansas' party primary elections in May. After a state Supreme Court ruling, Arkansas' voter ID law won't be in effect for the November elections.
Danny Johnston
Election worker Dorothy Davis checks a voter's ID during Arkansas' party primary elections in May. After a state Supreme Court ruling, Arkansas' voter ID law won't be in effect for the November elections.

Election Day is 2 1/2 weeks away and early voting has already started in many places. So here's a recap for all those trying to keep track of the flurry of last-minute legal activity involving state voting laws:

Arkansas: The Arkansas Supreme Court has struck down the state's voter ID law. A county circuit court judge found the law unconstitutional in May but stayed his decision pending appeal. That meant that the ID law would have been in effect for the November elections. Now it won't be. The state's high court found that requiring voters to show a photo ID imposed a new qualification for voting, violating the state's constitution.

Ohio: The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 to block a lower court ruling that would have prevented the state from cutting back its early-voting period. That means that instead of starting early voting on Sept. 30, Ohio voters had to wait a week. The decision also cut out early voting during evening hours and on Sunday, Oct. 26. However, there will still be early voting in Ohio on the weekend right before Election Day. Opponents said the early-voting cuts would hurt minority voters the most. The state countered that Ohio still offers more early voting than other states.

North Carolina: The U.S. Supreme Court stayed a federal appeals court decision to block part of the state's sweeping new voting law. The appeals court had ruled that two provisions — eliminating same-day voter registration and prohibiting the counting of ballots cast in the wrong precinct — should not go into effect this year, while the law is being challenged. The Supreme Court disagreed. Two justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented. Ginsburg noted that the appeals court found that the state law "risked significantly reducing opportunities for black voters."

Wisconsin: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a federal appeals court ruling that had allowed the state's voter ID law to go into effect this year. So, at least for now, Wisconsin voters do not have to show a photo ID at the polls. Three justices dissented — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Even so, Alito expressed concern about imposing the new ID requirement — which had been on hold — so close to the election. He said it was "troubling" that the state sent out thousands of absentee ballots without the ID requirement. Those ballots were at risk of being rejected but will now be counted.

Texas: Civil rights groups have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block the state's new voter ID law — one of the strictest in the nation — from remaining in effect this year, while the law is being challenged. A decision is expected soon. The emergency request comes after a federal judge found the law unconstitutional because it placed a disproportionate burden on black and Hispanic voters, who are less likely to have the required government-issued photo ID. But a federal appeals court agreed to stay that decision, leading the voting groups to turn to the Supreme Court for relief.

Arizona and Kansas: One other noteworthy case is pending. It involves a requirement by Arizona and Kansas that voters show proof of citizenship when they register to vote. The states are suing to get the federal government to change its registration form to reflect that requirement. The case is before a federal appeals court and a decision could come before Election Day. If not, voters in those states who used the federal registration form — and haven't shown proof of citizenship — won't be allowed to vote in state and local elections. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach says he thinks only a few voters will be affected.

Those are the highlights. The Supreme Court has shown a reluctance to allow major voting changes to be put in place right before an election. But it hasn't ruled on whether these laws are constitutional. That's expected to happen after the election, and more likely next year.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.
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