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Voting Restrictions, Turnout, and Voting Fraud– North Carolina’s Slap in the Face to the Voting Rights Act Endorsed by Federal Judge

2016-04-27

A federal district judge endorsed the constitutionality of North Carolina’s restrictive new laws regulating voting that were passed by the legislature one day after the Supreme Court invalidated key clauses in the Voting Rights Act.  Those clauses would have subjected those restrictive laws to evaluation for disparate impact on minorities before they could be enforced.  The judge was wrong, just as the Supreme Court was wrong, and it is easy to explain why.

The passage of these restrictive laws merely validated Congress’ reasoning in re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 and made a mockery of the Supreme Court’s reasoning in calling the Act out of date.   Note that the Supreme Court had upheld the entire Voting Rights Act repeatedly until its decision of 2013.  The North Carolina legislature, only one day after the Supreme Court freed it from federal supervision, eliminated early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration for sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds, and instituted a requirement to show identification at the polls when voting.   All those changes clearly had a disparate impact on minority voting and would not have been allowed if the preclearance requirement was still in effect.  These changes proved that Congress was right in 2006 and the Supreme Court was grasping at straws in its reason for calling the Voting Rights Act provisions unconstitutional: because its preclearance requirements were forty years old and “out of date”.

Wisconsin Republican State Senator Dale Schulz, who retired after serving his state since 1983, refused to defend his party’s voting restriction laws when interviewed on a radio show in March 2014, just before he stepped down from his post at the end of 2014.  He was quoted as saying, “It’s all predicated on some belief there is a massive fraud or irregularities, something my colleagues have been hot on the trail for three years and have failed miserably at demonstrating.”

“It’s just sad when a political party has so lost faith in its ideas that it’s pouring all of its energy into election mechanics… We should be pitching as political parties our ideas for improving things in the future rather than mucking around in the mechanics and making it more confrontational at the voting sites and trying to suppress the vote.”

“In the spirit of the champion of the 1957 Voting Rights Act, I have been trying to send a message that we are not encouraging voting, we are not making voting easier in any way, shape or form with these bills…  Back in 1957 with the leadership of Dwight Eisenhower, Republicans were doing that.  And that makes me sad, frankly.”  (Quotes are taken from a post in the online magazine, “The Cap Times” published in Madison, Wisconsin.)

Mr. Schulz was referring to the original passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was “primarily a voting rights bill” (Wikipedia) supported by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.  This Act was intended to show support in federal law for the Supreme Court’s Brown decision of 1954 that attempted to desegregate primary and secondary schools.  The Supreme Court decision was so unpopular among Southern whites that they engaged in a campaign of violence that included bombings of churches as well as schools; President Eisenhower was forced to call out the National Guard to enforce the Court’s orders.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was pressed by President Kennedy and signed by President Johnson.

The Voting Rights Act was re-authorized in 2006 with minimal changes; the Supreme Court on June 25, 2013 held that the section restricting certain specific districts with a history of discrimination to “preclearance” of potentially unconstitutional changes in voting laws was itself unconstitutional because it was  “based on 40 year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day” (notwithstanding the fact that Congress had just re-authorized it seven years earlier.)  (All of this paragraph is sourced from Wikipedia.)

None of this seemed to matter to Judge Schroeder, who acknowledged that some black North Carolinians “endure socioeconomic disparities that can be linked to State discrimination,” which make it harder for them to participate in elections.  [From the New York Times editorial about the federal judge’s decision.]

We can only hope that the federal Appeals Court will reverse this ill-considered decision before the November elections and allow disadvantaged people to vote without being required to jump through hoops to prove who they are so that they can vote.  The best argument against these restrictive laws is that thousands of people do not have the necessary documents, yet are unquestionably citizens of the United States and residents of North Carolina who want to vote.  The procedures needed and the cost and time involved in obtaining needed identification documents constitute an unconstitutional poll tax because there is virtually no in-person voting fraud in this country.

In-person voting fraud is ridiculously complex and inefficient for an organization that wants to perpetrate voting fraud.  This is the bugbear that Republicans invoke when they talk about “voting fraud”: the idea that the Democratic Party is engaged in institutional voting fraud by opposing these voting restrictions.  The problem for the Republicans is that they always do better when fewer people are allowed to vote, because the aims of the Republican Party are essentially aligned with the views of the top 1% of the wealth pyramid.  The only way they can win elections is to fool more than 50% of the other 99% into voting for representatives who will obey the dictates of that upper 1%.

The problem that the Democratic Party has is that the Republicans have engaged in wholesale fraud at least since the Presidential campaign of Richard Nixon in 1968, sufficient to fool that 50%, in claiming that the policies of the Democrats are bad for the country as a whole, even though they are in line with the interests of the bottom 99% of people.  For example, raising taxes on the top 1% of the people by a modest amount will be sufficient to pay for all the progressive programs that the Bernie Sanders wing proposes, even free college tuition.

Nonetheless, a myth circulates and is widely believed, that the only way to pay for these “entitlement programs” would be to increase taxes on the “middle class” by an unsustainable amount.  This is demonstrably false, yet is widely believed for no apparent reason other than that it has been repeatedly asserted by the likes of Ronald Reagan and has not been adequately contradicted by the rest of the people’s representatives.  Ronald Reagan promulgated a reduction of taxes on the upper classes that produced a severe budgetary deficit.  This fact was hidden from the public, but the deficit was so severe that he was forced to reverse some of his tax reductions (but not the ones on the upper class.)

Restrictions on voting enacted by the Republicans in every state in which they control the state’s legislature have the effect of tilting the table in favor of Republican candidates.  These restrictions are not necessary to ensure the integrity of the voting process, nor are the extra hours they eliminate excessively expensive.   Additional hidden restrictions on voting, such as shortages of voting machines and personnel and inadequate numbers of polling places, have been deployed by Republican voting officials to great effect in suppressing votes in districts with Democratic majorities.

Additional structural restrictions on voting, such as holding elections on Tuesdays instead of Sundays and making voting optional rather than mandatory (voting is mandatory in countries such as Australia) have the effect of reducing the percentage of people who vote.  Just imagine what would happen if, instead of 35% or 55% of the voting population actually voting, all 100% of eligible voters cast ballots.  Would the Republicans be able to fool all of us, all of the time? (as a famous Republican once said.)

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