Commentary

New York Times features voting rights op-ed by Rev. Barber

Rev. barber 2Be sure to check out the opinion section of the New York Times this morning, which features an op-ed by Rev. William Barber of the North Carolina NAACP entitled “The Retreat From Voting Rights.”

Here are some highlights:

“ON Monday, Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of Federal District Court in Winston-Salem, N.C., upheld legislation passed in 2013 that imposed far-reaching restrictions on voting across this state, including strict voter-identification requirements. Judge Schroeder justified his decision by claiming that robust turnout in 2014 proved that the law did not suppress the black vote. But in reality, his ruling defended the worst attack on voting rights since the 19th century….

In his ruling, Judge Schroeder, a George W. Bush appointee, said that there is “little official discrimination to consider” today. His nearly 500-page ruling is in keeping with the 19th-century opponents of “Negro rule” who argued that voter intimidation was not “official discrimination” because it was carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. In later years, poll taxes and literacy tests were also deemed not “official discrimination.”

North Carolina actually began rolling back voting protections in 2010, when the new Republican majority adopted a redistricting plan that packed black voters into a few districts and carefully limited the power of interracial coalitions. Racial gerrymandering elected a veto-proof Republican supermajority. When its champion, Thom Tillis, then ran for United States Senate in 2014, he won by more than 45,000 votes.

Since the Shelby decision, many states have been emboldened to implement laws like North Carolina’s. Republican-controlled election boards have greatly reduced the number of polling places. Wisconsin recently passed a bill creating major hurdles to voter registration campaigns. Alabama closed driver’s license offices in several counties with high percentages of black voters. But after an outcry, it sent part-time license examiners to those counties.

Allowing this kind of retrenchment on voting rights sets a dangerous precedent, especially in the South. In the 11 former Confederate states, there are 160 electoral votes, 22 United States Senate seats and 131 House seats. We cannot allow this level of political power to be determined by discriminatory voting laws.”

After noting the actions of civil rights activists a half century ago to overcome obstructionism and physical violence, Barber concludes this way:

“Half a century later, we again struggle for unfettered access to the ballot, especially for the most vulnerable among us. The Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore the protections stripped away by Shelby, has stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Strom Thurmond was able to filibuster the 1964 Civil Rights Act for only 24 hours. But today’s extremists have buried voting rights here for nearly three years. It is time for the silence to end.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

Richard Burr at the center of the most ridiculous (and telling) story of the weekend

Richard Burr 2Another “you can’t make this stuff up” story came to light this weekend in the saga of North Carolina’s monster voter suppression law.

As Lynn Bonner of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported:

“U.S. Sen. Richard Burr cast a ballot during the the early voting period for the North Carolina primary after going to a polling place without an acceptable form of identification.

Burr, a Republican from Winston-Salem running for re-election, cast a provisional ballot and filled out a ‘reasonable impediment’ form, state elections records show.

‘Sen. Burr discovered he lost his ID when he arrived at the polling location, but he went out and got a new drivers license,’ his spokeswoman said in an email.”

There are several obvious takeaways from this story.

Number One is that had Republicans not made their last minute move to add the “reasonable impediments” language to their voter ID law last summer in response to court challenges, Burr would have been out of luck.

Number Two is that the whole incident points out the absurdity of the voter ID law. There is no actual widespread fraud that the law will attack. Instead, thousands of people who lack ID like Burr — many of whom have been voting religiously since the senator was in short pants — will be discouraged from voting.

Number Three is: How does a United States Senator lose his driver’s license and forget about it before heading out to vote for himself? Let’s hope Burr has a few choice words for his Senate colleague, the former Speaker of the North Carolina House and architect of the suppression law — Thom Tillis — the next time the two are sipping lattes in the Senate cloakroom.

Finally, Number Four is this: Let’s hope all the judges who will ultimately rule on the constitutionality of the law become aware of the Burr situation and take it into their calculus in rendering the ultimate decisions in the matter.

Commentary

New research: Voter suppression tactics really work

Voting rightsAs North Carolinians await a verdict in the federal court case challenging their state’s voter suppression laws, a new national study confirms what common sense tells us: these laws really do work to depress the vote.

Scott Keyes at Think Progress has the story:

“For years, researchers warned that laws requiring voters to show certain forms of photo identification at the poll would discriminate against racial minorities and other groups. Now, the first study has been released showing that the proliferation of voter ID laws in recent years has indeed driven down minority voter turnout, and by a significant amount.

In a new paper entitled “Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes”, researchers at the University of California, San Diego — Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi — and Bucknell University — Lindsay Nielson — used data from the annual Cooperative Congressional Election Study to compare states with strict voter ID laws to those that allow voters without photo ID to cast a ballot. They found a clear and significant dampening effect on minority turnout in strict voter ID states.”

The researchers found that strict voter ID laws could depress turnout in primary elections amongst African American, Latino and Asian American voters by numbers as high as 8.6%, 9.3% and 12.6%, respectively.

But, of course, you know that these laws are really just about attacking “fraud.”

Commentary

What NC leaders would do if they were serious about voting

Voting rightsAs this editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer explains, California has hit on a startlingly simple tactic that will both boost voting rates and shine a bright light on the actual reason conservative political leaders keep instituting new roadblocks to voting: automatic voter registration for all driver’s license holders.

The “New Motor Voter Act” will automatically register all eligible citizens to vote when they obtain or renew a state driver’s license. It’s the second such law in the country; Oregon goes even further by automatically registering all eligible adult citizens in the Department of Motor Vehicle’s database.

Federal law already allows for voters to choose to be registered to vote at DMVs. But as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said: “Citizens should not be required to opt-in to their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt-in to other rights, such as free speech and due process.”

California officials say that 7 million additional voters will be registered because of the law. Certainly, eligibility doesn’t guarantee participation, as low voter turnout percentages across the country show. But the law does remove one barrier to voting.

The editorial goes on to say this about the politics of the change:

“All of which leads us to a somewhat delicious feature of automatic voter registration: It lays bare the reason Republicans really don’t want more people casting ballots – because those voters might vote against them.

Read more

News

Federal appeals court says Texas voter ID law violates Voting Rights Act

voteA unanimous panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that Texas’ voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, finding that the law had a discriminatory impact on minorities.

Election law expert Rick Hasen, who has analysis in progress here, calls the ruling on Section 2 grounds a ‘big win” for plaintiffs.

Says Hasen:

The 5th Circuit adopted the two part “vote denial” test for Section 2 claims used by the 4th and 6th circuits (which is probably the standard that the trial court in the North Carolina voter id case will apply).  Applying the test, the 5th Circuit affirmed the trial court’s finding of a Section 2 violation. It upheld the finding that the law will have a discriminatory impact on minority voters—that is, minority voters are disproportionately likely to lack one of the types of ID which are allowed under Texas law. Then, [the court] found enough evidence to sustain a finding that [the law] “produces a discriminatory result that is actionable because [it] . . . interact[s] with social and historical conditions in Texas to cause an inequality in the electoral opportunities enjoyed by African-Americans and Hispanic voters.” Particularly interesting in this analysis is the question whether Texas’s explanations for why it needed its law (antifraud, voter confidence) were tenuous. The trial court found that they were because the evidence did not support the need for voter id for either of these purposes, and this factor worked in favor of finding of a Section 2 violation.

Read the full decision here.