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“Voter ID’s Last Stand”: Let’s Finally Declare Laws What They Are – Racist On Purpose

This week, the US Department of Justice and the state of Texas started arguments in the first of what will be a summer-long dance between the two authorities over voting rights. There are three suits being tried in two districts over gerrymandering and Texas’s voter identification law – both of which are said to be racially motivated. In its filing, the DoJ describes the law as “exceed[ing] the requirements imposed by any other state” at the time that it passed. If the DoJ can prove the arguments in its filing, it won’t just defeat an unjust law: it could put the fiction of “voter fraud” to rest once and for all.

These battles, plus parallel cases proceeding in North Carolina, hinge on proving that the states acted with explicitly exclusionary intent toward minority voters – a higher standard was necessary prior to the Supreme Court’s gutting of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) back in January. Under Section 3, the DoJ had wide latitude to look at possible consequences of voting regulation before they were even passed – the “preclearance” provision. Ironically, because the states held to preclearance had histories of racial discrimination, some of the messier aspects of the laws’ current intentions escaped comment.

But meeting that higher standard of explicit exclusionary intent comes with the opportunity to show some of the many skeptical Americans the ugly racism behind Republican appeals to “fairness” and warnings about fraud. Progressives have tried, and mostly failed, to show the institutional racism underpinning the sordid history behind voter ID laws; that may have been too subtle. In courts in Texas and North Carolina, the DoJ will make the jump from accusations that laws have a racial impact to straight-up calling voter ID laws racist.

This ought to be interesting.

The DoJ filing in Texas lays it all out pretty clearly, putting the voter ID law in context of a concerted legislative strategy to deny representation to the state’s growing Hispanic population, including Republicans advancing more and more aggressive voter ID bills over the years. The filing points to the anti-immigrant rhetoric that laced the floor debates over the law, and to the measures taken by the Republican-controlled state house to limit the participation of Democratic minority lawmakers in considering or amending the legislation (the bill was heard in front of a special committee selected by the governor, on an expedited schedule). And, the DoJ notes, lawmakers produced “virtually no evidence during or after enactment of SB 14 that in-person voter impersonation – the only form of election fraud addressed by the identification requirements of SB 14 – was a serious problem.”

Perhaps the most significant piece of context in the voter ID suit is how Texas’s voter ID law came on the heels of the redistricting that the DoJ claims was also racially motivated. In the redistricting cases, DoJ’s allegations of malicious intent have been helped along by the admission of the state that it had malicious political intent. The Texas attorney general, Greg Abbott, chose as his defense in that case what only can be called the Lesser Evil Strategy – stating up front that the state’s GOP legislators had ulterior motives, but not the ones that the VRA outlaws:

[R]edistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats … [They] were motivated by partisan rather than racial considerations and the plaintiffs and DOJ have zero evidence to prove the contrary.

Abbott’s smugness – and his apparent faith in partisanship as a permissible and distinct form of discrimination – will take center stage as the DoJ presses on with both suits. In court, Abbott will be asked to prove his ignorance of demographics for the very state in which he is currently running for governor. Out of court, other GOP defenders of the law will have to do more or less the same. And they will need to defend the outrageous details of the law – such has how a concealed carry permit is a permissible form of voter ID but a federally-issued Medicare card carried by an elderly woman is not.

Some people of Texas may support the kind of bullying Abbott has prepared to defend, and most progressive activists are hardened to it, but I think average Americans hate it. Putting malice under a national spotlight might be the best way to turn people against voter ID laws in general.

Right now, Americans support the idea of voter ID laws by huge margins: polls show favorable attitudes toward a generic “ID requirement” to be between 70 and 80%. Approval exists across all demographic groups – even among black voters (51%), one of the groups that is, of course, disproportionately disenfranchised by these laws.

But the reasons that the public supports such laws aren’t the same as the GOP’s reasons for pursuing them: Republicans want to prevent specific types of people from voting; the American public wants voting to be fair. That’s why conservatives have had to hammer so hard on the false narrative of “voter fraud” – to convince everyone that it’s what the laws are really about.

Add context to the “ID requirement” poll question that Americans get behind, though, and public support changes dramatically. A survey in North Carolina (taken as the state was considering taking up an amendment on the issue) found initial support for voter ID to be 71%. Pollsters then drilled further down and came up with numbers that speak to a truly democratic impulse:

  • 72% say it’s wrong to pass laws that make it harder for certain people to vote.
  • 62% say they oppose a law that makes it harder for people of one party to vote.
  • 74% say there should be demonstrated problems before legislators apply a fix.

If nothing else, these results suggests that Abbott’s argument that supposedly party-based redistricting isn’t the free pass – at least, from the public’s standpoint, if not the court’s – that he thinks it is.

In North Carolina, pollsters found that support for the law decreased as the 2012 election neared and voters started to pay attention and become educated on the issue. Voting rights advocates filled yet another suit based on disenfranchising young voters, which could make a further difference. (Way to keep pissing off millennials, GOP!)

That context effect is true nationwide. A different survey found that informing respondents that “Opponents of voters ID laws argue they can actually prevent people who are eligible to vote from voting” brought support for voter ID down by 12 points.

Pollsters have not publicly investigated whether Texan voters would show a similar shift, though it could be significant that support in the state for voter ID has remained at around 66% for the past two years, less than its support nationwide. Of course, 77% of Texas believe “voter ID laws are mainly used to prevent fraud,” an alternate-reality bubble that attention to these cases may just yet pop.

It’s the Department of Justice that’ll have to bring this to pass. The GOP has always easily waved away “systemic” racism charges, like those made under the non-gutted VRA, as either outright inventions or the result of looking for equal outcomes rather than equal opportunities. Making clear the racist intent of voter ID laws will bring the discussion back to where it belongs: on equal opportunities, in the voting booth.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, July 16, 2014

July 17, 2014 Posted by | Racism, Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Artificially Polarizing The Country”: Redistricting Reform Should Be Priority Number One

I became political aware at a young age and took a keen interest in the 1980 Republican primaries when I was only nine and ten years old. I still have cartoons I drew at the time that depicted Ronald Reagan as a warmonger intent on blowing up the world with nuclear weapons. This wasn’t something I learned from my parents. It was my own opinion. In retrospect, it was a little bit alarmist. I should have been worried about other things, like the long-term destruction of the middle class or a propensity to sell TOW missiles to Iran to pay a ransom for hostages held by Hizbollah in order to illegally transfer the proceeds to the Contras in Nicaragua. But, a nine year old’s capacity to imagine evil only goes so far.

When I see a book title like Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked, I want to claw my eyeballs out. Yet, I do understand what Chris Matthews is pining for, and it isn’t the fjords. However much Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan disagreed, they were civil to each other, and they knew how to strike a deal without threatening to default on the country’s debts. For Washington insiders of a certain age, there is a keen sense of nostalgia for the old days when politicians didn’t go home to their districts every weekend but stayed in town and socialized with each other.

Perhaps no one represents this group better than Cokie Roberts, who was almost literally raised in the Capitol Building. Her father, Hale Boggs, represented Louisiana’s 2nd District in 1941-43 and then from 1947 to 1972, when his plane disappeared in Alaska. By the time of his death, he had risen to be the Majority Leader, the same position held today by Eric Cantor. By that time, Cokie Roberts was an adult, but her mother, Liddy Boggs, went on to represent the New Orleans-based district until she retired to look after her dying daughter (Cokie’s sister) in 1990. I found a set of interviews that Ms. Roberts did with the Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives in 2007 and 2008, (you can read the interviews here in .pdf form) in which she describes her life growing up in the corridors of power and how things have changed.

In the following excerpt, she laments the use of the gerrymander, which she calls “picking your own voters.” In her opinion, the increasing efficiency with which the political parties draw the congressional maps is one of the main reasons why Congress is so deadlocked. Keep in mind that she said this in 2008, before things got even worse after the 2010 census and subsequent redrawing of district maps.

ROBERTS: I think that what this business of picking your voters—first of all, is so anti-democratic—it does a few very, very bad things. It creates a far more partisan chamber because you only worry about getting attacked from the true believers of your own party in a primary rather than a general election. Look what just happened to Chris [Christopher B.] Cannon as a perfect example of that.

You do only represent people who are just like you, so that your desire or even ability to compromise is far less than it used to be. I’ll give you an example. Bob Livingston used to represent a district that was 30- percent black. So he voted for fair housing, he voted for Martin Luther King holiday, he voted for a variety of things that were not the things that people whose representative in the state legislature was David Duke expected him to do. But he could explain to the yahoos in his district that he had to do it because of the black constituency when it was actually stuff that he wanted to do. Then it was redistricted to be lily-white conservative Republicans, and, you know, it’s almost impossible for that person—it was [David] Vitter, I don’t know who it is now—to do that. You just have to be fighting your constituency all the time to do something that would be a sort of national interest thing to do. And that’s true on both sides. It just makes legislating and governing much, much harder.

The President [George W. Bush], actually, was talking to me—I don’t often get to say, “The President was talking to me about it,” {laughter}—when I went with him to meet the Pope. We were talking about immigration, and he’s, you know, he’s basically just furious about immigration, about the failure of the bill, and he said, “It’s all about the way districts are drawn.” And it is fundamentally anti-democratic because the whole idea is you get to throw these people out. In 2006, I must say I was heartened, not for partisan reasons, but I thought they had drawn the districts so cleverly that you’d never be able to register that vote of no confidence, which an off-year election is—it’s either a vote of confidence or no confidence—I was afraid that that had been taken away from the voters, which would really be different from what the Founders had in mind. So the fact that even with that, you were able to change parties and register that vote was heartening, but it’s much harder than it should be.

There has been some debate recently about whether or not Justice Ginsburg should strategically retire from the Supreme Court to prevent a Republican president from appointing her successor. Ginsburg defends her continued presence of the Court by arguing that President Obama will be succeeded by a Democrat because “The Democrats do fine in presidential elections; their problem is they can’t get out the vote in the midterm elections.” She’s probably right in her prediction about Obama’s successor, but she is definitely correct that the Democrats have trouble getting out their vote in midterm elections. With the districts drawn the way there are, this threatens to prevent the people from expressing their vote of confidence or no confidence.

According to the Cook Political Report, the Democrats should have won the 2012 House elections.

By Cook’s calculations, House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.

It was the second time in 70 years that a party won the majority of the vote but didn’t win a majority of the House seats, according to the analysis.

So, there are really two things here worthy of consideration. The first is that the gerrymander has the effect of artificially polarizing the country by creating districts that are only really contestable in primary, rather than general elections. Politicians are punished for cooperating more than they should be.

The second problem is a partisan one that only hurts the left. Democrats get less seats than they should have.

Yet, the first problem hurts the left, too, because it leads to dysfunctional government, which leads to a general disdain of government in the populace, which creates distrust about the government’s ability to do big things.

For these reasons, I believe that progressives should consider redistricting reform their top priority. Unless we can solve this problem, we will never be competing on a level playing field, and our ability to do great things will continue to erode.

Unlike Chris Matthews and Cokie Roberts, I don’t want to go back to some idyllic time of bipartisan cooperation that barely existed in reality, but I do want a fair shake and a government that works again.


By: Martin Longman, Washington Monthly Political Animal, December 28, 2013

December 29, 2013 Posted by | Democracy | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Political Apartheid”: Keeping Black Voters In Their Place

The Republicans who now control the legislatures and governorships in the deep South are using the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 to create a system of political apartheid.

No state demonstrates this better than Alabama, where in 2010 Republicans took over the State Senate and House for the first time since Reconstruction. This is a signal example of the decline of black power in the South.

Mike Hubbard, a Republican from Auburn, who is speaker of the Alabama House, engineered the 2010 takeover of the legislature. He was forthright in his 2012 book — “Storming the Statehouse: The Campaign that Liberated Alabama from 136 years of Democrat Rule” — about his techniques for displacing white Democratic incumbents:

“We needed to find our targets and the candidates to take them on, so I commissioned an in-depth study of voting patterns in various districts represented by white Democratic legislators across the state.”

Before the 2010 election, there were 60 Democrats in the Alabama State House, 34 of them white, 26 black. Now, there are 36 Democrats, 26 of them black, 10 of them white. In the State Senate, the number of Democrats fell from 20 – 13 white, 7 black – to 11 Democrats, 4 white, 7 black.

Once Alabama Republicans gained control of the levers of power, they wasted no time using the results of the 2010 Census to reinforce their position of dominance. Newly drawn lines further corralled black voters into legislative districts with large African-American majorities, a tactic political professionals call “packing and stacking.” Redrawn district lines minimize the potential of coalitions between a minority of white voters and a solid core of black voters. Under these circumstances, white Republican voting blocs remain dominant.

At the core of this strategy is an unexpected twist: Republicans in Alabama and in many other states have gone out of their way to protect black legislative districts and black legislators from Republican or white Democratic challenges.

Have Republican legislators in the South become civil and voting rights champions? No. They are promoting the interests of African-American voters in order to enhance the ability of Republican officials whose real targets, white Democrats, are struggling to cope with the steady decline of loyal “Yellow Dog” supporters.

To achieve this goal, Republican state legislators purposely keep the influence of Democratic-leaning minorities to a minimum in districts with white majorities. Alabama is a state where 80 percent of whites voted Republican in the 2004 presidential elections; 90 percent did so in 2012.

“The most important part of the plan was to preserve minority districts,” said Jim McClendon, the Republican state representative from Springville who co-chaired the Alabama redistricting committee. In a phone interview, McClendon rejected suggestions that the Republican goal was to make it harder for white Democrats to win re-election to state legislative office: “No, not at all. The voters are making it tougher on white Democrats.”

Out of a total of 105 State House districts, 27 have black majorities, one of which is represented by a white Democrat. In those districts, the average percentage of black voters is 66.4 percent, far above the percentage election experts now consider critical if the goal is to insure that minorities have the ability “to elect their preferred candidates of choice,” as the Voting Rights Act puts it.

In a federal court challenge to the state’s Republican-drawn redistricting plan brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, Theodore S. Arrington, a professor emeritus of political science from the University of North Carolina and an expert in election law, testified on Aug. 12 that 50 percent plus one vote would be enough in Alabama.

In redrawing the State Senate and House lines after the 2010 Census, the number of black “influence” districts – majority white districts with enough blacks so that minorities and a relatively small percentage of whites could together elect a Democrat – were kept to a minimum, and in some cases eliminated altogether.

Before redistricting, for example, there were five majority-white State Senate districts in which there were potentially enough blacks, Hispanics and other minorities to form an alliance with white Democrats to win in November. According to documents provided by James Blacksher, the plaintiffs’ lawyer in the federal court case brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus, these State Senate districts had an average percentage of minority voters of 35.9 before redistricting; after redistricting, the average percentage of minority voters in the five most integrated majority-white districts fell to 29.5. In other words, there was a significant decline in the number of majority-white state legislative districts in which minorities might have enough votes to form an alliance with still-Democratic whites.

McClendon, the Republican state representative from Springville, now plans to run in 2014 for State Senate in District 11. Before redistricting, the voting age population of that district was 65.5 percent white; after redistricting, it is 81.9 percent white, virtually guaranteeing a Republican victory.

In the State House districts with majority white populations, only two had minority populations exceeding 30 percent, 32.0 and 34.5 percent.

None of the 78 majority white State House districts falls into the racial “middle ground” with minority percentages in the 36 to 49 percent range. These are the kind of state districts most likely to produce biracial coalitions, and most likely to elect white Democrats, not only in the South but nationwide.

Arrington testified that the intent of Republican redistricting was to prevent blacks “from forming effective cross-race coalitions” both in elections and in the state legislature. “If you’re restricted to just 25 to 30 percent of the districts in the Legislature, and you have no ability to form coalitions with whites, then your ability to participate politically is restricted. It’s not participating equally in the political process,” he said.

Blacksher, the lawyer representing the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus in its suit, said in a phone interview that the Republicans’ goal is “to make all Democratic seats black, all Republican seats white.”

According to the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus,

“Republican lawmakers packed black voters into 27 House districts and eight Senate districts. The redistricting plans ‘purposely perpetuate and attempt to restore Alabama’s historical policy of segregating African Americans in party politics.’ ”

McClendon flatly denied such intent: “that wasn’t part of the plan,” he told me.

The Republican redistricting plan has had some unexpected consequences, with significant racial ramifications, one of which grows out of the state’s unusually strong restrictions on the powers of city and county officials. Alabama does not have home rule and requires instead that the state legislature approve virtually all local laws, including laws governing Jefferson County, which encompasses Birmingham.

The Alabama Legislative Black Caucus contends in a jurisdictional statement asking the Supreme Court to take up the case that

“The legislature enacted plans that place Jefferson County in 18 House districts, only 8 of them majority-black. All of the majority black districts lie entirely inside Jefferson County, but 6 of the 10 majority-white districts cross into 6 other counties. The 2012 Senate plan puts Jefferson County in 8 districts, 3 majority-black and 5 majority-white. All 3 of the majority-black Senate districts lie entirely inside Jefferson County, but all 5 of the majority-white districts cross the Jefferson County boundary to include parts of 11 other counties. Altogether, 155,279 non-residents vote for members of Jefferson County’s House delegation, and 428,101 people residing in other counties vote for members of the Jefferson County Senate delegation.”

The consequences are substantial, according to the statement:

“White legislators will continue being able to block local revenue bills, whose defeat has helped drive Jefferson County into bankruptcy and has closed Cooper Green Mercy Hospital for the poor.”

One solution would be for Congress to amend the Voting Rights Act to more explicitly address the political reality that African-Americans in the South are now mobilized and turn out in far higher percentages than was the case when the Act was written in 1965.

Arrington testified before the Middle Alabama Federal District Court that because of increased turnout, blacks in Alabama are, in fact, able to elect politicians of their own choosing in districts that are 50 percent or less minority – that the 60-70 percent levels that civil rights leaders called for decades ago are no longer required.

Changes in African-American political mobilization actually offer much stronger potential for integrated politics than in the past, when black political representation required supermajorities of minority voters. The elections of Barack Obama to the presidency, of Cory Booker to the Senate in New Jersey and Deval Patrick in Massachusetts clearly show that such biracial alliances are now achievable.

Republicans, however, will do what they can to prevent pro-Democratic trends from emerging in regions they dominate. After successfully winning control of the South, Republicans will not let go of the reins. In that famously vicious political blood sport, redistricting, they will exploit their ability to deploy the cloak of civil rights to maintain and strengthen a politically advantageous segregation of the races.


By: Thomas B. Edsall, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, November 6, 2013

November 7, 2013 Posted by | Racism, Republicans, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Summer Of Voting Discontent”: Texas’ Voter ID Laws Are Plain And Simple Discrimination

Last month, the Department of Justice sued Texas over the state’s discriminatory and punishing voter ID law, SB 14. The same law was blocked by a federal court last summer, which determined that a “law that forces poorer citizens to choose between their wages and their franchise unquestionably denies or abridges their right to vote.”

In a state and country where voters of color are significantly more likely to live in poverty than white voters, the impermissible choice that Texas has imposed on voters discriminates on the basis of class and race both. In the wake of Supreme Court’s decision earlier this summer in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, which immobilized a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice’s lawsuit represents the next phase in pushing back against measures that are intended to make it harder for people of color to vote, and less likely that our votes will count when we do.

Texas, like many states, passed SB 14 for the ostensible reason of combating in-person voter fraud, which Hillary Rodham Clinton recently called a “phantom epidemic.” But Texas has not been able to identify a single instance of in-person voter fraud. Texas has said that the law is not intended to discriminate against Black and Latino voters, whose communities represent 90 percent of the state’s population grown in the past decade, and yet the state’s legislature refused to accept any of the amendments offered that would have mitigated any of SB 14’s burdens that disproportionately affect voters of color — amendments that, for example, would have created a way for poor voters to get free identification, or would have accepted student IDs.

A single comparison of the accepted and not accepted forms of photo ID makes the priorities of the law clear: SB 14 will allow voters to present a concealed handgun license at the polls, but not a student ID from any of Texas’s public universities.

In addition to challenging the discriminatory ID law itself, the DoJ lawsuit also seeks to bail Texas in to a preclearance structure similar to the one that was lost in the Shelby County decision. Texas’s longstanding history of crafting discriminatory voting laws and schemes extends far past the voter ID law at issue now; in fact, Texas boasts the inglorious accolade of being the only state for which federal authorities have challenged at least one of its statewide redistricting plans after every decennial census since 1970.

As recently as last year, a federal court concluded that the state had drawn up its various redistricting plans with the intent to suppress the growing political power of African-American and Latino districts. A provision of the Voting Rights Act asserted in the DOJ’s case can bring back to Texas the preclearance defense lost in June’s Shelby County decision.

As the summer of our voting discontent draws to a close, it should serve as a powerful message that the first major voting lawsuit filed by the DOJ since the Shelby County decision goes directly to a state with one of the most well-documented histories of racial discrimination in voting, and seeks to use the full power of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act both to invalidate SB 14 and to bring Texas back under federal review.


By: Natasha Korgaonkar, Assistant Counsel of the Political Participation Group at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, U. S. News and World Report, September 3, 2013

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Voter ID, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Disenfranchising The Electorate”: The Questions That Will Decide The Fate Of Voting Rights In North Carolina

Three lawsuits have been filed challenging North Carolina’s new voter suppression law, which I called the worst in the nation and Rick Hasen says is the most restrictive since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Now comes the question: Will the challenges be successful? Here are three factors that will decide the outcome in North Carolina and the future of the VRA and voting rights more broadly.

1. Can Section 2 replace Section 5 of the VRA?

Conservatives opposed to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act strenuously made the argument before and after the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder that Section 2 was an adequate replacement for Section 5, which forced states with the worst history of voting discrimination to approve their voting changes with the federal government. “Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in Section 2,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority. Testifying before the House, Hans van Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation called Section 2 “the heart of the VRA” and said “there’s no reason for Congress to take any action” to resurrect Section 5 with a new coverage map.

This is a clever and disingenuous marketing job. In truth, Section 2 has been used almost exclusively to protect majority-minority districts during redistricting and has been narrowed in recent years by the Supreme Court, most recently in Bartlett v. Strickland in 2009. The Department of Justice hasn’t filed a Section 2 lawsuit since 2009 and no major voting restrictions were blocked under Section 2 during the last election. It’s difficult to challenge voting changes before they go into effect under Section 2 and the cases often take years and millions of dollars to defend. “This is one of the fixes we need from Congress,” says Spencer Overton, a professor at George Washington University Law School. “We need some better, clearer standards for Section 2. The law is not well-developed.” Moreover, the more cases that are filed under Section 2, the more likely it is that anti-VRA conservatives will challenge its constitutionality.

Under Section 5, the burden would have been on North Carolina to prove that its voting changes were not discriminatory. Given the overwhelming facts of disparate racial impact in the law, DOJ or the courts would have almost certainly blocked its implementation. The strong evidence of racial discrimination in this case shows the urgent need for Congress to resurrect Section 5.

The outcome under Section 2 “will depend on a lot of discretionary factors instead of a straightforward law, which is why Congress needs to update the VRA,” says Overton. “It’s uncharted territory, so no one really knows what will happen,” says Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project. The federal lawsuits have been assigned to Judge Thomas Schroeder of the Middle District of North Carolina, a George W. Bush appointee regarded as an establishment Republican.

2. Did North Carolina Republicans intentionally discriminate against minority voters?

Lawsuits brought by the North Carolina NAACP and the ACLU ask that North Carolina be covered under Section 3 of the VRA, so that they must seek federal approval of their voting changes for a period of time, based on a “preponderance of evidence” of intentional discrimination. DOJ recently asked a court to do this with Texas. “The General Assembly has discriminated against African Americans and other voters of color in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and thus coverage under Section 3(c) is mandated under the Voting Rights Act,” the ACLU plaintiffs in North Carolina write.

The lawsuits argue that clear evidence of the law’s discriminatory burden on African-Americans—who were disproportionately more likely to lack ID and to use early voting and same-day voter registration, for example—was presented during the legislative debate and that Republican sponsors of the bill did nothing to alter the legislation. “After Shelby County v. Holder, the courts are going to have to take these intent claims seriously,” says Penda Hair, co-director of the Advancement Project, which filed suit on behalf of the North Carolina NAACP.

But North Carolina could argue, like Texas, that its law was simply aimed at disenfranchising Democrats, not minorities, and thus is not intentionally discriminatory. Proving intentional discrimination in court is very difficult. One change Congress could easily make is for Section 3 to cover voting changes that have a discriminatory impact, not intent. Under that standard, North Carolina would almost certainly have to clear its voting changes with the feds for a period of time.

3. Will voter suppression efforts produce an electoral backlash among minority voters?

It’s almost considered a truism today that laws meant to disenfranchise minority voters will motivate more minority voters to cast a ballot in order to defend their most sacred right, since that’s what happened in 2012. But the backlash against voter suppression in the last election was the result of a number of unique factors: an extremely well-organized and well-funded Obama campaign, a poorly run Romney campaign that did almost no outreach to minority voters and the fact that many of the new voting restrictions were blocked or repealed in key battleground states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

We shouldn’t assume that such a backlash will become the new normal, especially as more onerous laws are put on the books in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. “The 2012 election was an anomaly, because of the candidate and campaign at the top of the ticket,” says Overton. “In primaries, off-year elections, midterms, the resources aren’t there to mobilize people to the polls.” And even if the impact of a new voting restriction is ultimately tempered or overcome, that doesn’t make attempts to restrict the right to vote any less immoral. “I hope there is a backlash,” says Hair. “I hope everyone is so angry in North Carolina about efforts to take away their right to vote that they redouble their efforts. But you shouldn’t have to redouble your efforts in order to vote.”

That said, North Carolina is one of the states where you could potentially see a higher turnout as a result of the legislature’s draconian overreach. First off, the Republican legislature is deeply unpopular, with a 20 percent approval rating, and so is the new voting bill, with 39 percent approving and 50 percent disapproving. Seventy percent of moderates and 72 percent of African-Americans dislike the legislation. Second, the well-organized Moral Monday coalition has been mobilizing people against the legislature’s actions for months and is strongly positioned to get a lot of people to the polls. Third, the litigation against the law will keep this story in the news and make more people aware of its onerous details. Fourth, there is a competitive Senate race in North Carolina that could decide the balance of power nationally, with Democrat Kay Hagan likely facing North Carolina Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, who was named “legislator of the year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2011 and is closely tied to all of the unpopular legislation passed by the General Assembly.

Republicans have done everything possible, through aggressive racial gerrymandering and onerous new voting restrictions, to protect their majorities in 2014 and beyond. In so doing, they’ve alienated a large segment of the electorate. The next election will be a good test case of the extent to which power-hungry politicians can successfully manipulate the democratic process in order to thwart the will of the people.


By: Ari Berman, The Nation, August 14, 2013

August 15, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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