With the preclearance requirement struck down, Florida Republicans would now be able to block such voter registration drives, and opponents of the move would just have to fight it out in court. Without any requirement for preclearance, states that have formerly been hampered in making drastic changes to ID requirements, early voting hours, etc., will now have an easier time.
The only ray of hope here is that the court actually left a little room open to bring back preclearance requirements for states that currently show a propensity towards voter disenfranchisement. The Court’s justification for striking down the law did not reject the idea of preclearance outright. Rather, the Justices decided that the current list of states burdened with the requirement was developed utilizing a now-outdated formula, reportedly based on information gathered in the Sixties and Seventies. The Justices claim that such information simply can’t tell us enough about which states are acting in bad faith now.
Well guess what; they have a point.
In the last few election cycles, we have seen bad behavior from a number of states that have never been required to get federal preclearance in order to change election law. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio have outdone themselves in recent years in developing creative ways to keep voters they don't like from voting. As my own North Carolina legislature enthusiastically pushes to slash early voting hours and institute strict new voter ID requirements, only certain counties here have had – until today - a preclearance requirement. If a new formula was developed that truly gauges which statewide efforts across the country actually make it harder for eligible citizens to register and vote, and a whole new list of states requiring preclearance was created, there is no doubt the North Carolina General Assembly would be looking at a new barrier to breach before rushing this type of legislation through. Similarly, states like Pennsylvania and Ohio, which have brashly lead the way in making voting harder, would most certainly fall under any realistic new formula.
So if Congress were to respond to this Supreme Court decision with quickly written and passed new legislation, using an updated formula that places preclearance requirements on any law that attempts to make it harder for legitimate, registered voters to cast a ballot, then wow, it would transform this interesting, but currently devastating, opinion into a godsend. Maybe that will happen someday, after a lot of damage has been done. After a lot of marginalized citizens are kept from the polls, and they grow angry enough to start making noise. After more eyebrows are raised by news footage of increasingly frequent long lines at the polls, wrapped around city blocks, old folks waiting hours in bad weather to vote. When the average citizen better understands why it is so hard for some people - voters with low access to everyday resources - to obtain copies of new, strictly-defined, government-issued photo ID cards. When the general public eventually absorbs the fact that because of this plethora of unnecessary and politically-driven changes to election law, American citizens who have a right to vote are being kept from the ballot box. Maybe then, someday, the tide of public opinion will turn against these laws. Congress will get the message, and there will be new laws written and passed that show zero tolerance for state election practices that infringe on voting rights.
But we know that won't happen now. It won't happen before 2014, it's unlikely to happen before 2016, and after that, well - it’s hard to say. The average citizen, a moderate voter, understandably doesn’t spend hours a day analyzing court decisions or election law. The average TV viewer will only stay tuned to shrill advocacy and partisan bickering for so much of their time. How long will it take the average American voter to grasp the level of extremism driving today's Republican Party? How long to become alarmed by its regressive policies? How long for dismay to translate into strong opinions, and then into pointed votes? And as more voters become disturbed enough to vote against bad election law, how many of them will have access to the ballot to cast those votes?