First Posted: 10/3/2014
The decision this week by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to suspend two key parts of the sweeping voter suppression law passed by the 2013 General Assembly may not hold given the leanings of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it does put the issue of voting rights back in the news less than five weeks before the election.
In an opinion written by Judge James Wynn from North Carolina, the Appeals Court partially reversed a lower court ruling this summer and the decision means that for now the law’s provisions that ended same-day voter registration and prohibited the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots are on hold and will not be in effect for the Nov. 4 election.
The state is appealing the ruling and many legal observers think it’s likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will intervene and overrule the 4th Circuit, leaving the law fully in place until a trial on its constitutionality is held next summer.
That’s the legal status of what’s happening. But this week’s decision also renews the public debate about voting restrictions passed by the General Assembly just before voters are headed to the polls to elect a new General Assembly and decide a Senate race between the current Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan.
Tillis, along with most of the current political leadership in Raleigh, is an enthusiastic supporter of the law that passed the state House he leads and he released a joint statement with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger praising the court’s decision to allow much of the law to stand and promising to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s office issued a bizarre press release with the headline “Governor McCrory Issues Statement on Voter ID Decision,” even though the court wasn’t asked to delay the voter ID provision in the law since it doesn’t take effect until 2016.
That’s odd until you consider that last year McCrory announced he planned to sign the elections bill even though he admitted he hadn’t read it.
McCrory’s statement said he told his attorneys to appeal the ruling “so that the two provisions rejected today can apply in the future and protect the integrity of our elections.”
That’s the ludicrous rationale for the law, that making it more difficult for people to vote somehow ensures the integrity of elections — when in fact the opposite is true.
Judge Wynn said in his opinion this week that there is undisputable evidence that repealing same-day registration and out of precinct voting disproportionately harms African-Americans. And he is right.
The same is true with the voter ID provision in the law that the court will consider next summer. Supporters of the provision point to polls showing the public supports requiring that voters show a photo ID before voting, but surveys also show that people support voters being able to use alternative forms of identification.
As Bob Hall with Democracy North Carolina points out, voter ID is a slogan not a law. And North Carolina’s voter ID law is among the strictest in the country and is trying to address a problem that does not exist. Voter impersonation fraud is very rare.
Most election experts agree that fraud is most likely with mail-in absentee ballots but the folks supporting the voter suppression law don’t seem to talk much about that and the law that is supposed to ensure integrity of our elections doesn’t either.
Speaking of election integrity, it’s also worth noting that McCrory, Tillis, and Berger haven’t issued any statements of outrage yet about the misleading registration forms sent to thousands of voters by the right-wing group Americans for Prosperity.
At one point during the hearing before the 4th Circuit, Judge Wynn asked directly, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”
Why indeed, though the correct question might be why do the folks with the far-right agenda in Raleigh not want certain people to vote?
The answer to that is obvious and it has nothing to do with integrity.
Chris Fitzimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch.