The cases at the Supreme Court involve two voting regulations from Arizona that are in common use across the country. One throws out the ballots of those who vote in the wrong precinct. The other restricts who may collect ballots cast early for delivery to polling places, a practice then-President Donald Trump denounced as “ballot harvesting.”
But the greater impact will be the test that the increasingly conservative court develops for proving violations of the VRA, as new laws are proposed and state legislatures begin redrawing congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 Census.
Reacting to Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud, Republican-led legislatures are racing to enact new laws that cut back on easements to voting implemented in part by the coronavirus pandemic. Even if investigations by Trump’s Justice Department and other Republican officials failed to substantiate the charges, they say changes are need to assure public confidence in election outcomes.
The liberal Brennan Center for Justice says that lawmakers in 33 states have crafted more than 165 bills to restrict voting so far this year — more than four times the number in last year’s legislative sessions. The group attributed the surge to “a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud” and accused lawmakers of a “backlash to historic voter turnout” last year.
Arizona leads the nation in restrictive proposals, the center said.
In 2013, the Supreme Court made it harder for civil rights groups to challenge such changes. It effectively eliminated the requirement that states proven to have discriminated against minorities in the past receive advance approval from a panel of federal judges or the Justice Department before changing their laws.
Civil rights groups openly worry that the 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder portends a further wearing of the federal law, as the court’s conservative majority has been bolstered since then.
The cases provide the court with “ample invitation to do a lot of harm,” said Myrna Pérez, who is director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center. She said the recent election and Trump supporters’ storming of the U.S. Capitol showed the protections are more necessary than ever.
“I think if there was one thing that the election and the insurrection showed us it’s that not everyone buys into the idea of free, fair and accessible elections,” Pérez said in a call with reporters. “We are going to need our institutions like the (Supreme) Court to protect against those who would try to keep our country for themselves.”
While the law protects minorities from government discrimination, the cases at the Supreme Court illustrate how minority voting and partisan politics have become entwined.
The Democratic National Committee brought the challenge of Arizona’s laws, and the Republican Party is on the other side. The state’s Republican governor, attorney general and legislative leaders defend the laws; Arizona’s Democratic secretary of state is content with a federal appeals court striking them down.
The battle plays out in a changing state: Joe Biden won Arizona last November, only the second time a Democratic presidential candidate has prevailed since 1948. The election also provided the state with two Democratic senators for the first time since 1952.
The challenged laws were in place when Biden won the state by more than 10,000 votes, and Attorney General Mark Brnovich said in an interview that it was easier for him to defend the state’s election results from charges of fraud because of the “prophylactic measures” the state had put in place to ensure “voter integrity.”
He took away a different lesson from the election than Pérez. “If we learned anything from the last election cycle, it’s that people have to have confidence in the election results,” Brnovich said.
The court will be examining a part of the voter protection law called Section 2, which…