It is telling that when Washington decides to attack North Carolina’s new voting reforms, the nation’s top legal authority paints a misleading picture of those laws.
Yesterday, the U.S. Justice Department gave early warning to North Carolina news outlets that it would file a lawsuit later the same day to stop certain provisions of the new voter ID/election reform law passed in the 2013 legislative session.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder, accompanied by North Carolina’s U.S. Attorneys — Ripley Rand, Anne Tompkins and Thomas Walker — described North Carolina’s new election laws as the “highly restrictive new voting law”.
Holder said that the recently passed election reform law includes troubling new restrictions, including imposing a voter ID requirement, reducing the number of early voting days, eliminating same-day registration during early voting and no longer counting the provisional ballots of voters who vote outside of their precinct on Election Day. Holder said that the Justice Department “expects to show that the clear and intended effects of these changes would contract the electorate and result in unequal access to the participation in the political process on account of race.”
Holder also is seeking to subject North Carolina to a preclearance regime similar to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) which was made inoperative after Section 4 was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year. Section 5 was the part of the VRA that required covered jurisdictions to ask the federal government for permission (known as preclearance) to make any change in the election process. While the whole state of North Carolina was not covered by Section 5, forty of its counties were. Section 4 provided the formula that determined what jurisdictions would be covered by Section 5. Less than half the state’s counties were covered under Section 5, but Holder suggested that the entire state should now be required to ask permission (of the federal Justice Department) to make any changes to election laws or processes.
In a joint statement released on Monday morning, state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis said:
“The Obama Justice Department’s baseless claims about North Carolina’s election reform law are nothing more than an obvious attempt to quash the will of the voters and hinder a hugely popular voter ID requirement. The law was designed to improve consistency, clarity and uniformity at the polls and it brings North Carolina’s election system in line with a majority of other states. We are confident it protects the right of all voters, as required by the U.S. and North Carolina Constitutions.”
Until House Bill 589 was passed, North Carolina was home to a collection of the most liberal laws in the nation, from Same Day Registration to an early voting period of more than two weeks. Plus, at the same time voters could request a ballot by only stating a name and address. Unfortunately, this was also among the most dysfunctional and insecure collection of voting laws. Until now, the honor system was the extent of North Carolina’s election security. The new law updates our voting system and makes it more secure, while providing ample opportunities for all eligible citizens to cast their ballots.
Holder admitted the case will be difficult and his assertion that minorities will be disenfranchised has little foundation. One only needs to look as far as Georgia to see a Voter Photo ID law, very similar to North Carolina’s, has proved to be anything but an obstacle to minorities. Georgia recorded record turnout in the 2008 election among minority voters. Compared to the 2004 General Election, nationwide African-American voting increased 21 percent and voting among Latinos increased 16 percent. In Georgia, however, African-American turnout increased by 42 percent and Hispanic turnout increased by 140 percent, while turnout among white voters increased by 8 percent. Rather than seeing decreased minority turnout, it increased in Georgia significantly more than in the rest of the country.
In the 2012 presidential election, African-Americans again turned out in record numbers. In all, Georgia’s turnout with voter ID was 3 percentage points higher than North Carolina’s without ID. Clearly, a requirement for a photo ID has not stifled voting among minorities in Georgia and will not hinder any eligible voters’ opportunity to vote in North Carolina.
Missing from public comment was North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Cooper, the “state’s attorney”, has called the voter ID legislation regressive and posted a petition on the change.org website urging Gov. McCrory to veto the legislation.
Justice is not the only entity suing the state on account of the election reform legislation. The North Carolina NAACP and the ACLU filed lawsuits after the Governor signed the legislation into law in August. That the Obama administration and liberal groups are suing suggests that they have failed to win the debate based on the facts, and are hoping to find a judge who will back their faulty summary of our new voting law.