The decision this week by the Supreme Court of the United States to deny North Carolina its day in court to defend its new election law is disappointing, but it is not the end of the world. There is a way forward and today the situation is no different than it was yesterday or even on Election Day 2016. But first let’s take a quick look at the current landscape.
For Democrats and Republicans, the electoral field has not changed. Under the current rules, Democrats, except for the governor’s race, were the big election losers in North Carolina. Despite the cries of gerrymandering by the losers, many of these elections have nothing to do with gerrymandering. They have everything to do with their candidates getting fewer votes than the Republicans.
The Democrats are in the minority on the Council of State for the first time ever. Republicans control more county commissions and have more elected county commissioners than at any time in recent history. The Republicans will control both U.S. Senate seats for at least four years, the first time since the 1990s this has happened. And despite predictions of widespread legislative losses for the GOP, the partisan makeup of the state legislature remained the same, with Democrats picking up one seat in the state House and Republicans picking up one seat in the state Senate.
So, while most Democrats celebrated the high court’s decision and most Republicans bemoaned it, there seems to be no political gain for the Democrats and no political damage for the Republicans under the current rules. In fact, one could argue that Republicans benefit under the current rules.
But winning and doing the right thing are not the same. While Republicans are winning, the right thing to do is to make sure that our citizens trust the electoral system. As polling has shown, voters support measures that instill more confidence in the electoral system.
When it comes to voting and elections, there are many legislative actions that should be taken, but I will just address voter ID. The legislature needs to again pass comprehensive voter ID. This should be accomplished this year in one of two ways:
- Pass a voter ID law requiring a government-issued photo ID. This ID requirement should cover all forms of voting so we treat all voters equally. Any government-issued photo ID would be accepted, but no private ID’s. As part of this effort, put photos on the Electronic Benefits Transaction (EBT) cards, as Maine has done, and make those acceptable forms of photo ID. This will have the added benefit of reducing fraud in the welfare system. Also, establish the County Boards of Elections as issuing agencies for free voter ID’s. Trusting the state DMV offices to issue the free ID’s in the 2013 law turned out to be a disaster. DMV can still issue free ID’s, but would not be the primary source.
- Imitate the Georgia law adopted in 2005 and implemented in 2008, which has passed judicial muster. We have previously advocated for this approach. Don’t monkey around with it, just make it fit the North Carolina statutes and pass it. That would include adding County Boards of Elections as agencies that can issue free voter ID’s. Georgia is a state whose size and demographics are similar to North Carolina’s – so North Carolina wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel.
Either of the above will likely trigger a lawsuit from the Left, which will start the path to again reaching the U.S Supreme Court on the issue. This will be a clean voter ID case without the other issues and confusion that Chief Justice John Roberts used in his written decision in which the court dodged the last case. Since there is a split in decisions at the U.S. Circuit Court level on this issue, it will be hard for the Supreme Court to avoid it indefinitely. The North Carolina legislature needs to act now to start the inevitable legal proceedings.
In conjunction with the law, the legislature needs to look at our state constitution. There have been rumblings about using the state courts to thwart voter ID and the legislature should look at putting an amendment on the ballot in 2018 or 2020 to make it clear that Photo ID is authorized by the NC constitution. It would protect our state’s citizens’ rights to a safe, secure election.
In 2016 there was a case in state court before Judge Mike Morgan, now Justice Morgan of the NC Supreme Court, on the issue of voter ID. It became moot after the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court struck down the law. But it can always come up again if a federal court authorized the state to implement a voter photo ID requirement.
We need to make it crystal clear that there is no impediment in North Carolina to requiring a photo ID for voting and that North Carolina takes safeguarding the integrity of elections seriously.