Gov. Cooper, AG Stein make a strong move to derail voter suppression

Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a press conference at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Dec. 21, 2016.
Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during a press conference at PNC Arena in Raleigh on Dec. 21, 2016. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein have made a bold move to cure the ailment of voter suppression in North Carolina.

The Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made the clearly correct ruling last year on North Carolina’s suppressive 2013 overhaul of elections law. The court said that the overhaul sought to reduce the impact of African-American voters in elections “with almost surgical precision.”

Basically, the Fourth Circuit panel agreed with those who said the voter ID requirements, along with a cut in the number of early voting days, were aimed at reducing the voting strength of African-Americans, who tend to favor Democrats.

Now, Cooper and Stein, both Democrats, have moved to end the legal defense of the voter ID shenanigans engineered by Republicans. The governor and Stein have discharged the private attorneys who had been representing the state in an ongoing maneuver to get the Supreme Court to review that Fourth Circuit ruling. Once Cooper declined, as attorney general, to represent the state, former Gov. Pat McCrory hired private lawyers to do so at public expense.

This may not be the end of the controversy. The State Board of Elections, its members and its director would also have to withdraw from the case. And, the high court could decide to hear the arguments anyway, but that seems unlikely.

Legislative leaders, all Republicans, weren’t named in the lawsuit, so they’d have to petition the courts to intervene themselves. Given the reckless disregard with which GOP leaders have spent money on private lawyers to try to uphold their voter ID crusade, it won’t be surprising if they do just that.

Republicans have long tried to defend a law clearly designed to reduce the strength, by infringing on the rights, of people not inclined to vote for them. But arguments, for example, that people have to show ID to cash a check or use a credit card are weak. Voting is a right, not a privilege. It must not be impeded, particularly by politicians trying to game the system in their favor.

This was another case of Republicans in the General Assembly trying to ensure victory in elections by making voting harder for those who might oppose them — the elderly, the young and minorities, groups more likely not to have conventional identification. The voter ID law fits neatly into the same file as embarrassing redistricting lines skewing districts in favor of Republicans — something else that has been under expensive legal challenge.

Cooper and Stein have done the right thing in trying to maintain access for all voters in making that most important statement in our democracy.

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