By the New York Times Editorial Board
Election Day is three weeks off, and Republican officials and legislators around the country are battling down to the wire to preserve strict and discriminatory new voting laws that could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court — no friend to expansive voting rights — stepped in and blocked one of the worst laws, a Wisconsin statute requiring voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. A federal judge had struck it down in April, saying it would disproportionately prevent voting by poorer and minority citizens. Last month, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit allowed it to go into effect, even though thousands of absentee ballots had been sent out under the old rules.
There was sure to be chaos if the justices had not stayed that appeals court ruling, and their decision appears to be based on the risk of changing voting rules so close to an election. But they could still vote to uphold the law should they decide to review its constitutionality.
Similar laws have been aggressively pushed in many states by Republican lawmakers who say they are preventing voter fraud, promoting electoral “integrity” and increasing voter turnout. None of that is true. There is virtually no in-person voter fraud; the purpose of these laws is to suppress voting.
In Texas, where last week a federal judge struck down what she called the most restrictive voter ID law in the country, there were two convictions for in-person voter impersonation in one 10-year period. During that time, 20 million votes were cast. Nor is there any evidence that these laws encourage more voters to come to the polls. Instead, in at least two states — Kansas and Tennessee — they appear to have reduced turnout by 2 percent to 3 percent, according to a report released last week by the Government Accountability Office.
Voter ID laws, as their supporters know, do only one thing very well: They keep otherwise eligible voters away from the polls. In most cases, this means voters who are poor, often minorities, and who don’t have the necessary documents or the money or time to get photo IDs.