Gov. Pat McCrory signed into law a host of new voting restrictions in 2013, including what was then described as one of the nation’s most restrictive photo ID requirements. That was bad enough, but his insistence that the changes protected the right to vote rather than suppressed the voting rights of targeted groups made it all the worse.
In a video statement released with the signing, McCrory said, “Let me be direct, many of those from the extreme left who have been criticizing photo ID are using scare tactics. They are more interested in divisive politics than ensuring that no one’s vote is disenfranchised by fraudulent ballot.”
Let us be direct. The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled last Wednesday that a photo ID requirement in Texas similar to the one signed by McCrory violates the Voting Rights Act. This is not a criticism for the “extreme left.” It is a ruling from what is considered the nation’s most conservative federal appeals court.
Clarifying repressive nature of law
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The decision followed a federal judge’s ruling Tuesday that voters should be granted an exception to Wisconsin’s photo ID requirement if they swear to their identity.
The Fifth Circuit ruling does not apply to North Carolina, which is covered by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., but it does clarify the suppressive and therefore illegal nature of strict photo ID requirements. The court found that Texas’ voter ID law discriminated against blacks and Latinos who were more likely not to have the type of photo ID required.
North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly, sensing that the law McCrory signed would be found illegal, amended it to allow voters who claimed a reasonable impediment to obtaining a valid photo ID to sign an affidavit and cast a provisional ballot. In the Texas case, the appeals court said voters must have a similar option.
That doesn’t mean North Carolina’s law is now in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. In practice, the “reasonable impediment” provision still kept hundreds of voters from having their votes counted in the March primary election. In some cases, poll workers did not apply the law properly or local boards of elections failed to approve provisional ballots that should have counted.
The number of voters who will be disenfranchised in November’s general election likely will be in the thousands. Meanwhile, photo ID advocates have yet to show evidence of people impersonating others at the polls, an act that already was a felony long before the rush to adopt photo ID requirements.
A ruling any day
The Fourth Circuit is weighing an appeal to a lower court ruling upholding North Carolina’s photo ID requirement and a host of other voting changes made by the same law. The ruling could come any day. In September, the law will face a state trial in which plaintiffs will come armed with the damning results of the March primary. Democracy North Carolina, a voting-rights advocacy organization, has documented more than 1,400 otherwise eligible voters whose votes did not count because of the new voting law.
Significantly for Texas – and perhaps eventually for North Carolina – the Fifth Circuit appeals court remanded the case with direction that the trial judge consider whether the Republican-dominated state legislature passed the photo ID requirement with an intent to discriminate against blacks and Latinos.
Should such discrimination be found, Texas could have a former requirement that the U.S. Justice Department approve state voting changes reimposed. That change would come three years after the Supreme Court lifted such oversight in nine states and numerous counties and municipalities saying there is no contemporary evidence that states and local governments suppress the voting rights of racial minorities.