North Carolina legislative leaders are asking North Carolinians to bless a Voter ID requirement that the U.S. Court of Appeals, in a 3-0 decision, ruled that the legislative leaders are seeking with the intent to discriminate against African Americans.
Indeed, the court ruled that North Carolina’s version of the Voter ID law and other changes sought by leaders of the North Carolina legislature
- “target African Americans with almost surgical precision”
- constitute “intentional discrimination” and
- were enacted with “discriminatory intent.”
Even though a Voter ID requirement might seem innocuous in the abstract to some, the court left no doubt that North Carolina’s version is blatantly racist in the form of intentional racial discrimination.
African-American citizens of North Carolina have been told in clear terms by a federal court of appeals that the Voter ID requirement that is now on the ballot as a proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution is a glaring attempt to discriminate against them based on their race.
Should you vote to endorse a blatantly racist action?
Should you vote to enshrine an act of racism in our state’s constitution?
Below is a summary of the court’s decision.
Beginning in 1965, the North Carolina legislature was required by federal law to “preclear” any proposed change to North Carolina’s voting procedures or qualifications with the U.S. Department of Justice. North Carolina had a long history of implementing prerequisites, such as literary tests, that were designed to discourage African-Americans from voting.
These prerequisites resulted in voting registration and turnout rates for African-Americans in North Carolina far below white registration and turnout rates.
In January 2011, the Republican Party took control over the North Carolina legislature for the first time in over a century.
By 2013, the elimination of such prerequisites saw African-American registration and turnout rates had nearly reached white registration and turnout rates. “African Americans were poised to act as a major electoral force.”
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court eliminated the requirement that North Carolina “preclear” any such proposed change. The next day, a leader of the NC Republican Party and chair of the NC Senate committee handling proposed changes to voter prerequisites announced an intention to enact changes in the election laws.
Two months later, an in-person Voter ID law and other new voting laws were enacted by the North Carolina legislature. A federal court explained that “The law required in-person voters to show certain photo IDs … which African Americans disproportionately lacked, and eliminated or reduced registration and voting access tools that African Americans disproportionately used.”
Here is what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, a federal court of appeals responsible for North Carolina and surrounding states, said about the North Carolina Voter ID law in ruling it unconstitutional:
I. The Court’s Summary
“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.”
The North Carolina Legislature’s “asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal [its] true motivation.”
The legislature, in essence, took away African-American voters’ “opportunity because [they] were about to exercise it…. This bears the mark of intentional discrimination.”
“Faced with this record, we can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.”
II. The Court on Voter ID
Before enactment of the 2013 voting law, the North Carolina “legislature requested and received racial data as to usage of the practices changed by the proposed law.”
“This data showed that African Americans disproportionately lacked the most common kind of photo ID, those issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).”
Before receiving the requested racial data, the legislature’s draft voting law “provided that all government-issued IDs, even many that had been expired, would satisfy the requirement as an alternative to DMV-issued photo IDs. …”
After receiving this data, “the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans. As amended, the bill retained only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.”
III. The Court Analyzes the Voter ID Law Further
“[W]e do not ask whether the State has an interest in preventing voter fraud — it does — or whether a photo ID requirement constitutes one way to serve that interest — it may ….”
We ask would the legislature “have enacted [the] photo ID requirement if it had no disproportionate impact on African American voters”?
“The record evidence establishes that it would not have.”
IV. No Evidence of In-Person Voter Fraud, But …
“[T]he State has failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud in North Carolina.
But it “did have evidence of alleged cases of mail in absentee voter fraud.”
“Notably, the legislature also had evidence that absentee voting was not disproportionately used by African Americans; indeed, whites disproportionately used absentee voting.”
The legislature “then exempted absentee voting from the photo ID requirement.”
“This was so even though … the bipartisan State Board of Elections specifically requested that the [legislature] remedy the potential for mail-in absentee voter fraud and expressed no concern about in-person voter fraud ….”
V. The Court’s Discussion of Four Other Provisions in NC’s New Voting Law: All Racially Motivated
The new voting law adjusted voting procedures in four other areas. Prior to enacting the new voting law “legislators also requested data as to the racial breakdown of early voting usage,” of “same-day registrants,” and other racial data.
“The racial data provided to the legislators revealed that African Americans disproportionately used early voting. … (… 60.36% and 64.01% of African Americans voted early in 2008 and 2012, respectively, compared to 44.47% and 49.39% of whites). In particular, African Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting.”
After receiving this data, the legislature “amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days.”
The racial data also revealed that “‘it is indisputable that African American voters disproportionately used [same-day registration] when it was available.’ … African Americans ‘are more likely to move between counties,’ and thus ‘are more likely to need to re-register.’” The legislature “eliminated same-day registration.”
The legislature also eliminated “out-of-precinct voting” after requesting “a racial breakdown of provisional voting, including out-of-precinct voting” which “revealed that African Americans disproportionately voted provisionally.” And it eliminated preregistration of 16- and 17-year olds. “African Americans also disproportionately used preregistration.”
VI. Court’s Concluding Remarks: Legislature Engaged in Intentional Discrimination Against African Americans
“The only clear factor linking these various ‘reforms’ is their impact on African American voters.”
“The record thus makes obvious that the “problem” the majority in the General Assembly sought to remedy was emerging support for the minority party.”
“Identifying and restricting the ways African Americans vote was an easy and effective way to do so.”
“We therefore must conclude that race constituted a but-for cause of [the NC Voter ID law and other such laws], in violation of the Constitutional and statutory prohibitions on intentional discrimination. …”
“We cannot ignore the record evidence that, because of race, the legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
Now the legislative leaders have put the NC Voter ID law — found intentionally discriminatory and unconstitutional when it was in the form of a statute — into the form of an amendment to the North Carolina Constitution.
With knowledge that (a) the NC Voter ID law intentionally targets our fellow North Carolina citizens due to their race in order to reduce the number of African Americans who vote and (b) there is virtually no evidence of in-person voter fraud in North Carolina, how can anyone vote for the NC Voter ID amendment in good conscience?
Sources and Notes
All the quotes are taken from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit’s written decision in NC State Conference of the NAACP et al. v. McCrory, No. 16-1468 (4th Cir. July 29, 2016). The Supreme Court declined petitions to review the Court of Appeal’s decision after North Carolina governmental officials disagreed on who could seek review.
Here is how the court described the other voting procedures: “Early voting thus increases opportunities to vote for those who have difficulty getting to their polling place on Election Day.” “Prior to [the new voting law], same-day registration allowed eligible North Carolinians to register in person at an early voting site at the same time as casting their ballots. … Same-day registration … provided an easy avenue to re-register for those who moved frequently, and allowed those with low literacy skills or other difficulty completing a registration form to receive personal assistance from poll workers.” “Out-of-precinct voting required the Board of Elections in each county to count the provisional ballot of an Election Day voter who appeared at the wrong precinct, but in the correct county, for all of the ballot items for which the voter was eligible to vote. This provision assisted those who moved frequently, or who mistook a voting site as being in their correct precinct. …” “Preregistration permitted 16- and 17-year-olds, when obtaining driver’s licenses or attending mandatory high school registration drives, to identify themselves and indicate their intent to vote. This allowed County Boards of Elections to verify eligibility and automatically register eligible citizens once they reached eighteen.” “Although preregistration increased turnout among young adult voters, [the legislature] eliminated it.”
The Supreme Court’s lifting of preclearance: Shelby County v. Holder, — U.S. — (June 25, 2013).
Text of Voter ID amendment ballot language.
Updated (10/19): Added “Now the legislative leaders …” sentence in the conclusion; made clarifying edits.