These Republican-backed state laws have been exposed as the quasi-criminal conspiracy they are. Now the courts are finally starting to act.
As we head into the November election season, a truly terrible fear has lurked in my mind: That while the American public could oppose Donald Trump, he and Republican congressional candidates could still win thanks to the many efforts over the last six years, ever since the Tea Party wave of 2010, to pass laws in the states to target and suppress minority and Democratic voters.
But years of work by progressive advocates (as well as the Justice Department, led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch) is really starting to pay off. In just one day, on Friday, three separate courts have swatted down some of the most egregious efforts by Republicans to block the ballot box.
And they’re doing a lot more than that: They’re exposing these laws for what they really are.
In North Carolina, a massive state law that both imposed strict voter-identification requirements, and cut down on early voting in some peculiar ways (more on that later) was utterly demolished by a three-judge panel on the federal court of appeals.
As election law expert Rick Hasen points out, this court went beyond simply declaring that the law had a disproportionate effect on Black voters, to actually declaring that the intent of the law was to disenfranchise Black voters in order to benefit Republicans.
As examples, the law included as acceptable forms of state-issued ID those that were more proportionately used by whites, such as driver’s licenses; and it restricted forms of voting more often used by non-whites, such as in-person absentee voting, while not doing the same to mail-in absentee voting more commonly used by whites. (It should also be noted, by the way, that mail-in voting is actually more vulnerable to fraud, if the intention were actually to combat such a thing.)
The opinion itself lays out the clear smoking gun, when the legislature began to embark on passing this law immediately after the Supreme Court gutted the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act:
Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans. In response to claims that intentional racial discrimination animated its action, the State offered only meager justifications. Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the State’s true motivation.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, a U.S. district judge also struck down parts of (but not all) that state’s voter-ID, plus a series of restrictions on early and weekend voting, plus other barriers on residency requirements and the voting eligibility of college students.
This is a pretty sweeping opinion, which rejects many of the state’s arguments for its restrictive voting rules as pretexual, and really aimed at giving Republicans advantage in elections. The judge was particularly skeptical of measures which made it harder to vote in Milwaukee, with its large population of minority voters, and to a lesser extent, Madison, a liberal stronghold in the state. But this is a careful opinion which parses the evidence and does not accept all of the claims.
And in a separate case, another federal judge on Friday also refused a request by the state to lift an earlier order he had handed down that substantially weakened the voter-ID statute: Under his prior ruling, people who are unable to obtain any of the proper state identification will still be able to vote in the November elections, by signing an affidavit at the polls to explain their situation.
This past May, a former Republican State Senate aide had testified that behind closed doors, GOP lawmakers were “giddy” in 2011 when they described the impact that this law would have upon Democratic voters in Milwaukee and on college campuses. The former aide, Todd Allbaugh, even quoted then-state Sen. Glenn Grothman (now a congressman) as declaring, “What I’m concerned about here is winning, and that’s what really matters here…We better get this done quickly while we have the opportunity.”
Earlier in April, Grothmann himself publicly boasted to a local NBC affiliate that the voter-ID law could help the GOP presidential nominee carry Wisconsin for the first time since 1984, “now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is gonna make a little bit of a difference as well.”
And in Kansas, a judge in Shawnee County (Topeka) ruled Friday to block a scheme by Sec. of State Kris Kobach — an architect of GOP “voter fraud” laws — to prevent people who registered using federal forms from being able to vote in state and local races. Kobach had begun requiring proofs of citizenship on the state forms, which are not part of the federal form, and his effort to create a two-tiered voter registration system would have currently affected up to 17,500 people.
“It’s beyond dispute that voting is of the most fundamental significance under our constitution,” the judge said, as reported by The Topeka Capital-Journal. “There is no right that is more precious to a free country than having a voice in an election.”
This follows good news from last week in Texas when the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is considered to be one of the most conservative courts in the country, declared that the state’s voter-ID law had a racially discriminatory effect. They did not immediately overturn the law, however, but instead ordered the lower courts to come up with a way to fix the law to accommodate people who couldn’t meet its stringent standards.
It’s something, to be sure. But there’s still a lot more to be done.