Republicans Renew Push For More Voting Restrictions

Nov 23, 2016
Originally published on November 23, 2016 7:08 pm
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Republicans will soon control the White House, Congress and the governments of half of the states in the country. That level of control has changed the landscape for voting laws. It's made it more difficult for Democrats and civil rights groups to fight new voting restrictions, like ID requirements. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has released a to-do list for next year's legislative session, noting that finally his state has a friend in the White House. High on his list - a new voter ID law to replace one that's been tied up for years in litigation brought by voting rights groups and the Obama administration. Patrick, a Republican, told a forum in Washington, D.C., his state no longer has to worry so much about fighting the feds.

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DAN PATRICK: The time that saves, the money that saves, the energy that saves - for example, photo voter ID - I was one of the authors of that bill I was in the Senate back in 2011. We have to pass that bill all over again.

FESSLER: It's not clear what will be in that bill, but it's unlikely a Trump Justice Department will go after it like the current one has, declaring the Texas voter ID law discriminatory and unconstitutional. Other Republicans have also been emboldened by the election. New Hampshire Governor-elect Chris Sununu wants to do away with a law that allows people to register and vote on the same day. And in a meeting with President-elect Trump this week, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach carried a draft plan to amend a 1993 law that made it easier to register to vote.

KRISTEN CLARKE: We stand at a critical moment in American democracy.

FESSLER: Kristin Clark heads the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several voting rights groups that sounded the alarm shortly after the election. The groups have been fighting such laws for years, arguing that minorities are hurt more than other voters because many lacked the required ID. And they've had some success in the courts.

CLARKE: Progress is fragile and can be easily unraveled.

FESSLER: She has reason for concern. The Supreme Court dismantled a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required states with a history of discrimination to get the federal OK before changing their voting laws. Trump's choice to head the Justice Department, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, has applauded that decision. Denise Lieberman, an attorney with another voting rights group, Advancement Project, says the Supreme Court has put more of the burden on voters to fight voting restrictions.

DENISE LIEBERMAN: But at least you had a Department of Justice that was willing to support those challenges and bring the power of the federal government to bear.

FESSLER: Which included filing suits against ID laws in both Texas and North Carolina. Those cases still could end up before the Supreme Court, but by then, Trump will likely have filled a vacancy there with someone more inclined to support such laws.

LIEBERMAN: We will have an executive, legislative and judicial branch that are all more hostile to voting rights than currently exists.

FESSLER: Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department attorney, now with The Heritage Foundation, sees it differently.

HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Their enforcement of all of these various laws is frankly very meager.

FESSLER: He says the Obama administration failed to bring the kinds of voting law cases he hopes the Trump administration will now pursue.

VON SPAKOVSKY: I'm hoping a couple of things will happen. First of all, I see that in eight years, the administration has refused to file a single lawsuit to enforce the provisions of the National Voter Registration Act to require states to maintain accurate voter rolls.

FESSLER: He notes many lists are filled with the names of voters who have died or moved. But Democrats oppose aggressive cleaning up of the rolls for fear eligible voters will be purged. Von Spakovsky also expects to see more state voter ID laws and requirements that those registering to vote provide proof of citizenship - another requirement that until now has been held at bay. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.