WASHINGTON WATCH: The phantom of the voting booth

The accelerating disenfranchisement campaign also highlights the critical importance of this year’s presidential election in shaping the federal judiciary.

August 3, 2016 20:47
4 minute read.
Voters in five big U.S. states cast ballots on Tuesday to pick presidential candidates

Voters in five big U.S. states cast ballots on Tuesday to pick presidential candidates. (photo credit: CARLO ALLEGRI/REUTERS)


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The GOP strategy in enacting voter ID laws around the country is as clear as black and white. Literally.

The Republicans don’t want blacks voting. That’s what federal courts said last week in cases in North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. It’s not about voter fraud, a virtually non-existent crime. It’s about race, the courts said, although African Americans aren’t the only targets.

Latinos, other minorities, the elderly, the poor, the disabled and groups expected to vote Democratic are also on the GOP hit list.

The US 4th District Court of Appeals found the North Carolina voter ID law was enacted with “racially discriminatory intent.” North Carolina Republicans were simply looking for what the court called “an easy and effective way” of “identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote.” The court said the law focused on “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

A Charlotte Observer editorial said the law wasn’t about Republican legislators’ concern for “the integrity of elections” but about “building obstacles for their opponents’ supporters.”

It’s no coincidence that Hillary Clinton is looking for a large African-American turnout to help her win North Carolina.

A similar Texas law, US Judge Catharina Haynes of the 5th Circuit said, violated federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections. Judge Gershwin A. Drain in a similar Michigan case made similar findings.

Republicans like North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory pretend that voter ID laws are colorblind, but some have certainly let the secret out. Don Yelton, a North Carolina GOP county precinct chair, told The Daily Show in 2013 that if the state’s new voter ID restriction “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks who just want the government to give them everything, so be it.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the law “safeguards our elections and ensures the integrity of our democratic process.” No so, contend the courts and other supporters of voting rights and legal experts. They contend these tough new laws are targeting “phantom” crimes that don’t really exist. US District Judge Lynn Adelman ruled “there is virtually no voter-impersonation fraud in Wisconsin.” His colleague, Judge James Peterson, wrote, “To put it bluntly, Wisconsin’s strict version of voter ID law is a cure worse than the disease.”

Studies by academics and legal authorities across the country showed the same thing, Newsweek reported.

Voter-ID fraud is virtually nonexistent. So there must be another reason 37 states – nearly all having Republican governors or legislatures – have enacted or proposed tough voter-ID laws.

The Republican platform adopted in Cleveland last month says, “We support legislation to require proof of citizenship when registering to vote and secure photo ID when voting.” It also urged states to impose their own voting restrictions free of federal interference – something experts believe would open the door to many states, especially in the South, moving to disenfranchise voters 51 years after the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA).

The real voter fraud is the one being perpetrated on voters by state officials who are systematically trying to disenfranchise minority voters as the Republican base shrinks.

Iowa’s Republican secretary of state, Matt Schultz, spent $250,000 and two years trying to show it was a widespread crime but came up with only six arrests out of 1.6 million votes cast, according to Blog For Iowa. And not a single case of impersonation fraud at the polls, reported ThinkProgress.

Republican officials are vowing to appeal these losses to the US Supreme Court, where they know they have a strong and sympathetic supporter in Chief Justice John Roberts.

Dating back to the early 1980s when he clerked for Supreme Court chief justice William Rehnquist and his days in the Reagan Justice Department, yanking the teeth from the 1965 VRA has been a pet cause.

The GOP strategy in this election with Donald Trump focusing on white resentment has been to remove VRA protections and leave states free to return to the Jim Crow days and impose restrictions on minorities, the poor and other voters the white establishment wants to disenfranchise.

Fortune Magazine reports that 17 states will have new voter restrictions in place for this year’s elections, all in the name of fighting a phantom crime, which Republicans are counting on to boost Donald Trump and their congressional candidates.

David Lachmann, former senior staff member of the House Judiciary, said this will be the first presidential election since the Roberts court struck down Section V of the VRA in 2013.

Section V requires pre-clearance by the Justice Department for voting changes in states, particularly the South, with a history of racial bias. The burden of proof is now on individuals and civil rights groups, not the states, to show changes are discriminatory.

“Those legislatures went crazy enacting new restrictions, primarily aimed at low income and minority voters,” Lachmann said.

Ohio, a critical battleground state but not one of the states covered by VRA, has been among the worst offenders.

It cut down on early voting dates, hours and locations and added new restrictions to registration.

The accelerating disenfranchisement campaign also highlights the critical importance of this year’s presidential election in shaping the federal judiciary.

“You aren’t merely electing your president come November. You’re picking the justice who will help determine whose votes can be discounted and whose are inviolate,” wrote legal affairs reporter Dahlia Lithwick for Slate.

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