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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Judges decide the fate of voter suppression laws as civic groups embark on voter registration day

As we celebrate Voter Registration Day, an effort to involve civic groups, media, and voters across the country, nationwide voter suppression efforts threaten the ability of millions of Americans to participate in the upcoming election. Two cases involving voter suppression efforts were decided this Monday: a federal judge in Florida gave a green light to Governor Rick Scott’s plan to cut back early voting, while a New Hampshire judge struck down a law that targeted college students seeking to vote in the state.

Governor Scott’s move to limit early voting is widely seen as a partisan effort, since early voters have heavily skewed toward the Democratic Party, especially for President Obama in 2008. Cutting back early voting is especially burdensome for students and minorities, who have less access to polling booths, and turn out in larger numbers during the early vote period. In 2008, Governor Charlie Crist, at the time a Republican, was attacked by his own party for extending early voting hours to accommodate the historic turnout in the election. The Florida law in question specifically ends early voting on the Sunday before Election Day, which saw particularly heavy minority voter turnout in 2008. Despite this history and the federal court decisions blocking other provisions of Florida’s voter suppression laws, Judge Timothy Corrigan of the Middle District of Florida found insufficient evidence that the reduction of early voting from 14 to 8 days would “impermissibly burden the right of African Americans to vote.” Judge Corrigan was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush.

The New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union and League of Women Voters found more success in New Hampshire, where Strafford County Superior Court Judge John Lewis blocked a law that would prevent out-of-state students from voting in New Hampshire, where they attend college and live for most of the year. This law would require all voters agree to register a car and obtain a state drivers’ license, which is limited only to those who intend to reside in New Hampshire indefinitely or permanently. The law was enacted by the Republican-dominated state legislature over the veto of Governor John Lynch (D-NH). Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien explained that students were “basically doing what I did when I was a kid and foolish, voting as a liberal.”

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