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Voter ID and early voting cases heat up in courts across the country

Legal battles over controversial voter ID laws, changes to early voting rules, and even the way ballots could look on election day are being heard in courts from Florida to Nevada. 

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A woman voting at the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections in Cleveland as early voting began in Ohio's March 6 presidential primary. A dispute over early voting rules in swing state Ohio is playing out in a political spat between the two presidential campaigns and in a federal court battle.

Tony Dejak/AP/File

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Before voters get a say in this year's presidential race, lawyers and judges are having theirs.

A series of court battles in several states may determine, over the next several weeks, everything from how people cast their votes, when polling locations will be open and what ballots will look like. Many cases have a partisan bent, with rulings potentially tipping the scales slightly in favor of Democrats or Republicans.

The legal fights have entered an urgent phase, two months before the Nov. 6 election and just a few weeks before military and overseas absentee ballots must go out.

Pennsylvania lawyers recently filed briefs arguing whether an appeal on the state's strict voter ID law should be held in September or October. Opponents won a mid-September court date, which is late even by their standards.

"This is by no means impossible, but certainly the closer you get a decision to Election Day the harder it is to make changes," said Vic Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

Wisconsin's attorney general is making a late push in the courts to reinstate voter ID requirements.

Republicans say they have pursued voter ID laws to prevent fraud. Democrats call it a political ploy to suppress voters who may not have the proper identification, particularly affecting groups that typically vote Democrat.

Along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, there are unresolved cases in Florida, Ohio, Iowa and Nevada. Those are among the most competitive states and any factor could tip the balance.

—Florida and Ohio are locked in litigation tied to changes in early voting rules. Republicans in Florida approved a law last year that reduced the number of early voting days to eight from as many as 14. Advocates are challenging that, and a panel of three federal judges recently determined that the changes could hurt participation by blacks, who lean heavily toward the Democrats.

Ohio officials have struggled for months over early voting rules. The Obama campaign sued over a law that prevented most people from using early voting on the weekend and Monday before Election Day; a federal judge on Friday agreed to restore those voting days. The state's attorney general is working on an appeal.

—Florida and Iowa are dealing with suits related to the efforts by election administrators to purge voting rolls of ineligible people. The U.S. Department of Justice is continuing to pursue a suit challenging Florida's purge, which previously included a list that contained more than 500 people who were citizens. A Hispanic civic organization also sued, alleging that the purge is an attempt to remove legitimate minority voters from the rolls.

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