At a time when primary turnout is already taking a hit from the coronavirus, a new photo ID requirement in Kentucky looms as another deterrent from the polls this year.
Legislation cleared Thursday by the General Assembly would require would-be voters show a driver's license or other government-issued identification with a photo. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has signaled he opposes the bill, but his veto would have minimal effect because the House and Senate are solidly Republican and have the power to override him by simple majority.
The bill was already viewed as adding Kentucky to the roster of states with the toughest voter ID requirements. Critics now lament the measure could suppress the vote further because of the public health emergency, which has closed or curtailed office hours at many of the government offices that issue ID cards.
Some 378,000 transgender voters could be blocked from casting ballots this fall because their names, appearances or gender identities don't match their driver's licenses or other identification, a California think tank estimates.
The figure is about one-quarter of 1 percent of the national electorate, a relatively tiny share that could nonetheless be dispositive in an extremely close presidential election — especially if trans voters get turned away in battleground states. Wisconsin, Arizona, Ohio and Georgia, for example, have some of the most restrictive laws among the 35 states requiring voters to show ID at their polling places.
"Especially in states that require an ID to be shown, this could result in some transgender voters being disenfranchised," said Jody Herman, a researcher who compiled the report released Thursday by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.
Two more solidly red states are moving closer this week to enacting a photo ID requirement for voting starting this fall.
The Republican-majority state House in Missouri gave initial approval to such a bill Wednesday. The GOP state House in Kentucky is expected to clear a measure by Friday, with enough votes to override a potential veto.
Only 18 states now require people to present an identification card with a picture on it at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and such rules have become one of the more highly contentious parts of the democracy reform debate in recent years.
North Dakota has agreed to a significant expansion of voting rights for Native Americans.
Residents of reservations will be able to register and vote this year even if they don't comply with the state's restrictive voter identification law, which requires voters to have an ID with a residential address, under an agreement announced late Thursday.
The deal marks a significant and stunningly sudden victory for the American Indian electorate. It settles the latest lawsuit brought by tribes and voters, who have been arguing for four years that the law is unconstitutional. North Dakota agreed to the settlement only hours after a federal judge rejected the state's bid to get the case dismissed and set a trial date for May.