A decision striking voter ID bodes well for NC

January 22, 2014 

Bad intentions make for bad laws, and that’s clearly the problem with voter photo ID laws in North Carolina and other states. Now a judge in Pennsylvania has moved to make things right by striking down the voting restriction in the Keystone State.

His action raises the possibility – and the hope – that opponents of North Carolina’s new voting law will also prevail.

The logic behind the voter photo requirement in Pennsylvania was virtually identical to the reasons put forward by GOP lawmakers in North Carolina: that photo IDs are necessary to stop voter fraud. That voter fraud is essentially non-existent mattered not to supportive lawmakers, who knew full well that minorities and the elderly were among those most likely to lack conventional forms of photo ID.

Republicans in North Carolina also shortened the early voting period, reduced Sunday voting and ended same-day registration. Those things are more popular with voting groups likely to go Democratic. Thirty states currently require some form of voter ID, but only 12 have a photo ID requirement in effect.

Voting rights advocates said the North Carolina changes are among the most restrictive in the nation. The U.S. Department of Justice and others have sued to block the law. The ruling in Pennsylvania will, one hopes, be repeated in North Carolina before the voter photo ID requirement takes effect in 2016.

Commonwealth Court Judge Bernard L. McGinley said the voter ID law in Pennsylvania hurt people trying to cast ballots. “Voting laws,” he wrote, “are designed to assure a free and fair election. The voter ID law does not further this goal.”

Sure, Republicans, including Gov. Pat McCrory, argue that North Carolina will make it possible for those without driver’s licenses to get state-issued IDs. The problems are that those without that kind of identification often have trouble getting around or that, though they are perfectly responsible taxpaying citizens, they may not be savvy in dealing with the government and are unaware of how to acquire an ID.

If they’ve been regular voters used to exercising their constitutional rights, they unfortunately may go to the polls next time assuming that giving their names and addresses will be enough.

Judge McGinley said changes that suppress votes aren’t justified by evidence of fraud. He wrote there was “no evidence of the existence of in-person voter fraud in the state or that in-person voter fraud was likely to occur in the upcoming election.”

Supporters of voter ID sidestep the lack of fraud evidence by saying it’s better to err on the side of caution. Look, they say, people have to show photo ID with credit cards, to cash a check, to conduct all sorts of business in day-to-day society. True enough.

But casting a vote isn’t cashing a check. It’s exercising a right granted and protected by the Constitution. It is a right that shouldn’t come with hoops or be subject to limitations opposed by self-serving politicians acting for self-serving reasons.

North Carolina is looking at legal challenges to the GOP’s attempts at voter suppression. If the Pennsylvania case moves into the federal courts, North Carolina’s law might be directly affected.

The passage of these additional burdens and restrictions on voting rights was a sad and outrageous day in North Carolina – partisan politics not just at its worst but at its clumsiest. The logic behind it was calculated, coldly, by lawmakers with a deceptive agenda.

That deception was made into law in North Carolina. May a judge unmake it soon.

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