There has never been any secret as to why Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly passed a sweeping voter ID law that, in addition to requiring a photo ID to vote, ended same-day registration and voting and banned people from voting outside of their precincts.
The law was a clear attempt to reduce the number of likely Democratic voters – elderly people who don’t have driver’s licenses, young people on college campuses who might come from other states, minorities.
Federal Judge Thomas Schroeder of North Carolina’s Middle District upheld the law last week. He assumed that the GOP’s upending of voting laws was merely a bit of legislative housekeeping, not a deliberate effort to dampen turnout. The U.S. Supreme Court is likely to make the final decision on the constitutionality of the law.
The rationale for a voter ID requirement was a scare tactic. Its advocates conjured visions of organized voter fraud although actual cases have been virtually non-existent. Nonetheless, those who wanted the law kept calling it a common-sense precaution, the same as requiring people to have ID to get credit cards, to write a check, to get on an airplane.
But the right-wingers pushing the law ignore the fact that none of those things comes under the heading of a right, which voting does.
The way to the voter ID law and other voter suppression provisions was opened by a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling weakening the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That in effect allowed North Carolina Republicans to push ahead with a raft of voting law changes that previously wouldn’t have passed federal muster.
Bob Hall, head of Democracy NC, a voting rights organization, noted Schroeder’s ruling acknowledged “significant, shameful past discrimination” in voting rights but found little “official” discrimination in recent years. Hall called that a “rose-colored glasses” view and hoped other courts would find differently. Hall also noted that provisional ballots cast by voters who lacked IDs in the last election were thrown out for wildly different reasons. So there really wasn’t any protection for those without ID, who might have had legitimate reasons for not having one.
Interestingly, Judge James Wynn of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals last year put a hold on portions of the voter ID law pending a full review of the law. That indicates that the Fourth Circuit may yet see the abuses of voting rights that Judge Schroeder could not.