New Law Continues Legacy of 'Solutions' for Bogus Problems

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder makes a statement on the U.S. Supreme Courts ruling on the Voting Rights Act at the Justice Department on June 25, 2013 in Washington, DC.Mark Wilson/Getty Images
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder makes a statement on the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on the Voting Rights Act at the Justice Department on June 25, 2013 in Washington, DC. The high court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which aimed at protecting minority voters, is unconstitutional.

Republicans in North Carolina just passed a bill to limit early voting, require identification at the polls and end same-day voter registration. It would also eliminate a high-school program that lets kids pre-register before their 18th birthdays and get rid of straight-ticket voting.

In other words, they're making it a lot harder to vote.


Republicans say they're cracking down on voter fraud. But the reality is that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.

"Between 2000 and 2010 there have been two cases of alleged voter impersonation," Slate noted in a recent critique calling the North Carolina law the worst in the country. "In that period three people also ate pop rocks and died."

And some of the measures they just passed have nothing to do with voter fraud, like the provisions enabling political parties to accept unlimited corporate donations and making it harder to tell who is paying for campaign ads.

Democrats and voter rights organizations say these are blatant attempts to disenfranchise minority voters and young people - two groups that skew Democratic.

Democrats are more likely to vote early and straight-ticket, and are more likely to lack the required ID, according to groups like the Advancement Project and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law (Student IDs from state universities and community colleges will not count under the new law.) For people with strict work schedules who can't take time off, don't have cars and don't live near an ID-issuing office, getting the proper ID can be difficult.

Despite resistance from federal officials, Texas is working to implement a similar law it passed in 2011; that one lets gun users show their gun registration as a valid form of identification, while barring students from using their university IDs.

"Time and time again, voter ID laws have surfaced across the country couched as a way to combat and prevent voter fraud, where there's zero to little evidence voter fraud is prevalent," Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said. "It's reaction to changing demographics."

As Vargas pointed out, North Carolina has a rapidly growing Latino population. Where Hispanics were once concentrated in places like California and Texas, there are now significant Latino voting populations everywhere from Illinois to Virginia.

That means new challenges for voter rights organizations looking to combat voter ID laws.

"It makes our job tougher because we're not in every single state, and in some states where we see a significant increase in the Latino population, we don't have a local infrastructure of Latino leadership and elected officials to help defend against attacks," Vargas said. "So it makes it very difficult. We're more vulnerable in North Carolina or Kansas or in Georgia versus in Texas and California, where we have a long history."

Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which aimed to stop Jim Crow-era limits on black voters' freedoms, some states and jurisdictions -- including parts of North Carolina and Texas -- used to need approval from the federal government before they could change their voting laws. But the Supreme Court effectively ended that requirement earlier this summer, and North Carolina jumped at the chance to become the first state to change its voting laws without oversight.

The affected states and jurisdictions impacted say Jim Crow is buried in America's past. But Latino organizations say they continue to face discrimination (as do many African Americans).

Attorney General Eric Holder, who wanted the oversight to continue, is looking for ways to keep it alive. He said he will petition a federal court in Texas to require the state to continue to get approval before they change their voting laws, for example.

Democrats in Congress have also said they will work to pass a new formula for determining which states need approval to change their voting laws, but that could be an uphill battle. Republicans haven't been altogether receptive of the idea.

Vargas said his organization and others will "continue doing what we've been doing" in terms of getting information to the Latino community about where and how to register to vote and where to cast ballots.

"Rather than embracing diversity, yet again, we see public governments and states react in a way to try to turn the clock back against changing demographics," Vargas said. "It's really unfortunate. We need to fight against these laws because they fundamentally erode American values and democracy by disenfranchising U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote."