-By Tom Curry, msnbc.com National Affairs Writer
February 24, 2012- In an election year dominated by battles over health care mandates, tax rates, and rising gasoline prices, it’s the mechanics of voting – and who’ll get to vote in November – that’s getting full-time attention from state legislators, election lawyers, and judges.
In the latest example, the Virginia state Senate is headed for a vote Friday on a new voter identification requirement – one more indication that the voter ID controversy will keep boiling in legislatures and in the courts right up to Election Day.
These new voter ID laws are being proposed almost exclusively by Republican legislators and governors in states throughout the nation, spawning both litigation and angry rhetoric from Democrats.
“All of a sudden after the 2008 election, these (voter ID laws) miraculously appear,” said Rep. Frederica Wilson, D- Fla. at a recent anti-voter ID event at the Capitol. “Why? Because we have a black president in the White House and it is to stop all of the people of color from … coming out to vote, because they (the proponents of voter ID laws) know who they are targeting …"
Here’s the status of some recently enacted voter ID laws and states where such laws might be considered this year:
Enacted but blocked
South Carolina: Last December, the Justice Department denied approval of the state’s voter ID law requiring voters to present photo identification that Gov. Nikki Haley had signed in May. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of nine states that must seek approval, or “pre-clearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington, D.C., in order to make any change in voting procedure.
State Attorney General Alan Wilson brought suit in federal court, arguing that the requirements “are at most a temporary inconvenience” to some voters. The state contended that its law was nearly identical to one enacted by Indiana and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008. Therefore barring South Carolina from doing what Indiana had done would “raise serious constitutional concerns” about whether Section 5 “violates South Carolina’s right to equal sovereignty.”
In a separate but related case with big implications for voter ID laws, Shelby County, Ala., is fighting in the federal appeals court in Washington to have Section 5 of VRA struck down as unconstitutional. The appeals court heard oral arguments on Jan. 19 and a ruling is likely in the next several weeks. The Shelby County case will likely end up before the Supreme Court and if the justices were to strike down Section 5, the Justice Department would no longer be able to pre-emptively block changes in voting laws. The department would still be able to use another Section of the VRA to challenge voting laws that have a racially discriminatory impact.
Enacted but likely to be blocked
Texas: State Attorney General Greg Abbott filed a suit last month in federal court, asking that Texas be permitted this year to use the photo ID law Gov. Rick Perry signed last spring.
Under Section 5 of the VRA, the Justice Department is now considering Texas’s law, having asked for additional information from the state on the race and ethnicity of Texas voters and drivers. The department must give its response to the Texas law by March 12.
In his filing, Abbott said Texas did not have the racial and ethnic data the Justice Department wanted. “Indeed, the very reason Texas refuses to maintain racial and ethnic data on its list of registered voters is to facilitate a colorblind electoral process,” he said.
Even in the unlikely event the Justice Department were to approve the Texas law, opponents of the law contend that there would be problems implementing it.
“The state is not ready to allow citizens the ability to obtain this kind of voter ID,” said Rep. Charlie Gonzales, D- Texas. “It goes way beyond just going to the Department of Public Safety and standing in line. You still have to have your birth certificate; if you’re divorced and your name is different you have to get a certified copy of your divorce decree. There are so many hoops to jump through.”