Voter ID Laws Loom Over 2014 Elections

In 2011, Texas enacted a strict voter identification law that mandated those wishing to vote present a photo ID at the polls in order to be permitted to do so. In 2012, the law was struck down under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated that certain states and counties receive prior approval from the federal government before enacting any change to voting laws.

Then, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this provision of the Voting Rights Act in the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder. This ruling opened the floodgates for many states to alter their voting laws that had previously been prohibited from doing so on their own accord. Today, the Federal government is using another still-standing provision of the act to push back against strict voter ID laws that have been passed by many states in the wake of the decision, and is having much success, opening up another chapter in this years long power-struggle between Federal and State governments.

The current challenge to the Texas law, among the strictest in the country, represents a microcosm of what has been going on in numerous states around the country in the lead up to the 2014 mid-term elections, where seats in 42 state senates and 45 state houses will be up for election. Earlier this year strict voting restrictions similar to those being challenged in Texas were struck down by federal judges in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a premonition that does not bode well for the Lone Star State. Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia also have similar strict identification requirements, with New Hampshire and North Carolina scheduled to join these ranks in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In total, 34 states currently have enacted some kind of voter ID requirement, according to NCSL data.

The immediate electoral ramifications of these laws are unclear; 2014 is the first major election year since the Supreme Court made way for many states to pass such laws. Proponents argue that they will reduce voter fraud and make elections fairer; opponents have successfully argued before federal judges that they are discriminatory in nature and are aimed at suppressing entire blocks of voters akin to the Jim Crow laws that existed in the South up to the Civil Rights era, laws that were effectively struck down by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Should these new voter ID laws have the effect that those on the left fear, it could lead to further partisanship in state legislatures, where Republicans currently have a major advantage, holding a total of 58 chambers to the Democrats 40.

Currently Ballotpedia estimates that Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin could all see one or both chamber flip partisan affiliation during the elections, which would have major ramifications for policymaking and state government for years to come. With Democrats expected to be on the defense at both the state and federal level, these laws may push the country into deeper red territory until the next set of national elections in 2016.