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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Cases on how to ease restrictions on voting likely to influence the 2020 election

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Federal appeals courts are gearing up to consider more than 40 cases that could influence the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, from a lawsuit by Democratic Rep. John Lewis of Georgia over potential voting challenges during this year’s midterms to arguments on whether a new North Carolina law designed to reduce the opportunities for black voters is discriminatory.

Courts in the major battleground states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio and Virginia are all poised to weigh in on voting, including several cases challenging various aspects of the last two presidential elections. And a suit brought by the powerful Republican political action committee in Ohio alleging that an attorney general approved to handle a redistricting case had violated ethical rules could lead to a new round of litigation over Ohio voting, a major contested issue of the 2000 election.

In the last two presidential elections, Republicans have sought to minimize the footprint of voting in Democratic strongholds, making that effort more difficult after the historic turnout for President Barack Obama’s two campaigns. Many of the cases challenging those efforts are focused on Ohio’s redistricting plans, specifically challenges to the Republican legislature’s use of a new method of how it drew district lines to reduce the voting power of Democratic voters.

The Ohio case could prompt a new round of litigation over potential effects of a different state redistricting plan approved by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions under the guidance of an official known for his criticism of civil rights enforcement. Lawyers for the plaintiffs challenging the state plans are expected to argue that the changes would have enabled Republican legislators to seat additional candidates and, in effect, shifted black and other minority voters to political districts that Republicans have a better chance of winning.

A decision by the panel ruling in the Ohio case could also provide guidance on some national issues, including the state’s controversial voter identification law, a key part of the GOP’s strategy to restrict voting this year in a few key states. The Kentucky case also asked whether districts used to draw congressional districts were drawn with discriminatory intent to limit the opportunities for African-American voters to vote, a question that has received significant attention in the current state supreme court race in Michigan.

The Florida congressional race of former State Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, who defeated her former top adviser, Tim Canova, in a bitterly contested primary this year, is sure to become a focal point in the contest between GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton for support from Asian-American voters. And a ruling against Canova could prompt further litigation.

Further cases involving Congressional seats in Ohio and North Carolina could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court in the close presidential contest of 2020.

The Pennsylvania case, currently winding through a federal appeals court, pits Democrats and human rights advocates against Pennsylvania State Senator Robert P. Casey Jr., who is the son of a former governor, Robert P. Casey Sr., a Pennsylvania Democrat.

The case is challenging a lower court’s ruling that portions of a new Pennsylvania law requiring voters to show identification cards and changes to the deadline for absentee ballot-casting were necessary to maintain integrity in the voting process.

Lawyers for Casey argue that the law does not prevent voter fraud and is essential for voters to cast ballots without undue problems.

A decision could have broad political consequences. The case has the potential to affect not only the outcome of the presidential race but also the contest for the U.S. Senate and the several congressional seats in Pennsylvania.

The North Carolina case, which could drag on for months if it reaches the Supreme Court, centers on restrictions enacted by that state’s Republican legislative leaders this year that voters have argued are unconstitutional and intended to suppress the chances of African-American and other minority voters.

The national implications for the North Carolina case are also significant. While the state has a history of voting discrimination, the law has become a flashpoint for a dispute over the rights of minorities in modern times. The law requiring voters to present identification was among several passed by Republican legislative leaders in response to the state’s historic registration surge in the last few years.

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