New Voter Suppression Laws in 17 States Will Have Major Impact on 2016 Election

Posted May 4, 2016

MP3 Interview with Adam Gitlin, counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy program, conducted by Scott Harris


Since the 2010 midterm election, 22 states, most of them controlled by the Republican party, have passed an assortment of new laws that make it more difficult for specific groups of citizens to vote. Seventeen states will have new voting restriction laws in place for the first time in a presidential election, in November 2016. These measures include restrictive voter ID laws, reduction in the days and hours of early voting, and obstacles placed on registering new voters and accessing absentee ballots. New voter suppression laws in these states were made possible in large part by the Supreme Court's 2013 ruling, which gutted a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

While GOP lawmakers assert new limits on voting rights have been introduced to prevent voter fraud, independent analysis has found no evidence to support their claim. A recent study conducted by the University of California, San Diego on the effect new restrictive voter IDs have had on voting patterns, found that these new measures disproportionately affect minority voters that largely support Democratic party candidates.

In fact, accusations by civil liberties groups and other political observers that the new voting restrictions are motivated by the pursuit of partisan political advantage have been confirmed by some Republican party officials themselves. Todd Allbaugh resigned as chief of staff to a leading Wisconsin Republican state senator when he found that new voter ID laws in his state were put in place to reduce the votes of minorities and college students. Former South Carolina senator and current president of the conservative Heritage Foundation admitted recently that new voter restrictions help conservative candidates by blocking Democratic voters. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Adam Gitlin, counsel with the Brennan Center for Justice Democracy program, who discusses the impact new voter suppression laws in 17 states could have on the 2016 presidential and congressional election.

ADAM GITLIN: There are two kinds of restrictions we are seeing, one could say. There are restrictions that have to do with imposing new requirements on voters, like photo ID laws. These are laws that require voters to – even if they are already registered – to show a certain form of ID, one of a few forms of ID, before being permitted to vote. In some states, like Texas, they have restricted heavily the range of IDs that one can show, often without necessarily one seeing a clear connection between the different kinds of IDs that is one is allowed to show. So, for instance in Texas, you can use a license to bear a firearm, but you can't use a student ID. And so some of these restrictions seem targeted at trying to make it harder for certain populations to vote, but not others. And then there are the other kinds of restrictions that are rollbacks of earlier expansions of the right to vote, like reducing the number of early voting days – that is, days before Election Day in which you can cast a ballot. Eliminating same day registration – eliminating the ability to register and cast a ballot on the same day. And other similar expansions of the right to vote that have rolled back since the Shelby County decision.

BETWEEN THE LINES: There's a lot of concern about the impact of these new voting restrictions on the numbers of people who can vote on Election Day, and also the disproportionate impact, particularly on minorities, young voters and low-income voters. Review for our listeners a bit about what we do know in terms of the research when it comes to the impact on individual voters and the larger issue of the potential changing of outcomes of victors and losers in elections.

ADAM GITLIN: It's important to note at the outset that it's going to take years to fully quantify the impact of voter ID laws. But there is growing evidence of damage. There are studies that have shown a decrease in turnout. Probably most well-known of these is the nonpartisan U.S. government accountability office released a study that found that turnout among eligible and registered voters declined on the order of two to three percent 2012 in Kansas and Tennessee, both of which have a photo ID requirement. There's a more recent study some folks at the University of California in San Diego that looked at the minority white turnout gap in strict photo ID law states and in states that didn't have strict photo ID laws, and they also found drops in turnout for certain minority groups in states that had stricter photo ID laws. Certainly, there's been some research done on the fact that oftentimes in some of the most competitive states it may be more possible with the right tide to pass a voter ID law, because there is some belief that voters of certain political persuasions may be the ones more likely to be affected by these voter ID laws.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Adam, if you could briefly speak to the status of court challenges – federal court challenges, Supreme Court challenges – to some of these laws. Have they been all exhausted here? Or what's left on the table in terms of voting rights advocates and what they could do to stop some of these laws.

ADAM GITLIN: So, a number of these laws are being challenged in a variety of settings. I would say some have more of a public image there, there's more recognition that they are likely to be addressed eventually by the Supreme Court than others. Some are simply likely to move than others. I would say probably the two most notable ones are challenges to North Carolina's voter ID law and challenges to Texas' voter ID law. Both of those are still alive last week as you note. In North Carolina, the federal district court judge ruled against the plaintiffs there, but the plaintiffs have already appealed. And in Texas, the law has already been stricken down by three federal courts. But now the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is going to be hearing a challenge to the law and it's anyone's guess what happens after that. But it is reasonably likely that whoever loses will appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Learn more about the status of challenges to voter suppression laws by visiting The Brennan Center For Justice at; and also New Voting Restrictions in Place for 2016 Presidential Election.

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