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Courts Strike Down Voter ID Laws In Texas, Wisconsin


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. With Election Day less than four weeks away, opponents of new state-voter, ID laws have won two major victories. Last night, courts blocked ID requirements in Texas and Wisconsin. The decisions could have an impact on close races in those states. But as NPR's Pam Fessler reports, the legal battles are far from over.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: It was well into the evening yesterday when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a brief order blocking Wisconsin's new voter ID law. It was welcome news to Dale Ho, who runs the ACLU's Voting Right's Project. He says he hasn't been getting a lot of sleep lately.

DALE HO: I've been a little distraught about how things have been going. And last night, I didn't get a lot of sleep but for the opposite reason. (Laughter) I was just really excited.

FESSLER: Excited because he's part of an army of civil rights attorneys who've been trying to stop a wave of new-voter, ID laws and other voting restrictions from taking effect, and there've been lots of downs in recent months. Ho says even last night's victory could be temporary.

HO: One thing we do know in Wisconsin - the Supreme Court has spoken on this - there will be no voter ID in November and that's a really good thing for the 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin who don't have. How this is going to shake out in the long run, only time will tell.

FESSLER: That's because the court only blocked the law temporarily. It did not rule on whether it was constitutional. The court instead appeared to be concerned about the chaos caused by a lower court's ruling that the ID requirement could go into effect just weeks before the election. It meant that hundreds of absentee ballots cast before the ID rules were in place might have been rejected. Rick Hasen is an election-law expert at the University of California, Irvine.

RICK HASEN: The Supreme Court message seems to be whatever you do in these cases, don't do it at the last minute before the election.

FESSLER: And he says that could have implications for another big decision yesterday. In Texas, U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos struck down that state's voter ID law - one of the strictest in the nation. She said it created an unconstitutional burden on the state's voters, especially the hundreds of thousands of Hispanics and African-Americans who don't have a government-issued, photo ID. She also said it amounted to a poll tax because of the fees for documents needed to get an ID.

HASEN: But the larger, more important point is that the judge found that Texas engaged in intentional, racial discrimination in voting in recent years.

FESSLER: Which Hasen says could mean the state's voting laws will be subject to federal oversight in the future. But Texas is not about to let that happen. In a statement last night, the Texas Attorney General's Office said it would immediately appeal the court's decision. The state argues that no voters will be prevented from casting a ballot under the new law. It also says voter IDs are needed to protect against voter fraud. Although, the courts found little evidence such fraud exists. Wisconsin officials say they too are looking at their options. Although, it's not clear what those might be. A Republican State Representative Dale Kooyenga says he's very disappointed with the Supreme Court's order.

CONGRESSMAN DALE KOOYENGA: We did not expect this at all. It's kind of a strange last-minute wrench thrown in things.

FESSLER: He expects the state to keep pressing its case. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin election board has a new message today on its website. It says photo ID not required. Pam Fessler, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.