Last week, a federal district judge upheld one of the most regressive and restrictive voting laws in the country – a 2013 North Carolina law that eliminated same-day voter registration and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds; cut back on early voting by a week; barred counting votes cast outside voters’ home precincts; and required voters to show identification at the polls.
State lawmakers said these changes were necessary to reduce fraud and inefficiency in elections – although there is no evidence of voter fraud to combat or inefficiency to cure. The Justice Department, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP and the Advancement Project, among others, sued on the grounds that the law illegally discriminates against minority voters.
Judge Thomas Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, accepted the state’s baseless rationales for the law, even as he dismissed or ignored the obvious political realities behind its passage. The law was a Republican-led rollback of several measures passed during the previous 15 years to make voting easier, and it was drafted with the purpose of driving down the vote among minorities, the poor, students and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.
It was pushed forward by the Legislature a day after the disgraceful Supreme Court ruling that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, freeing North Carolina and other states with histories of voting discrimination from federal oversight. Had that provision been left in place, the North Carolina law very likely would have been blocked.
None of this seemed to matter to Judge Schroeder, who acknowledged that some black North Carolinians “endure socioeconomic disparities that can be linked to State discrimination,” which make it harder for them to participate in elections. Yet he concluded that voting discrimination is no longer a problem in North Carolina and that the new law does not exacerbate existing disparities.
Any meaningful analysis of the law should consider the impact of the restrictions on the specific communities and voters involved. For example, the elimination of same-day registration disproportionately affected black North Carolinians, who used that method at twice the rate of whites. That’s the type of analysis a three-judge panel of the federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit looked to when it blocked the ban on same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting.
Republicans have admitted that they do better when fewer people vote, and that voter-identification laws and other restrictions are intended to deter Democratic-leaning voters from getting to the polls.
That’s the reality, and Judge Schroeder was wrong to disregard it. His decision will be appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which should waste no time in knocking down this latest obstacle so that all North Carolinians can exercise their voting rights in November.
The New York Times