A really great piece on how we got to where we are on voting rights:
Pat McCrory, the Republican presiding over the dismantling of the state’s relatively reasoned approach to race and the law, declared Friday that he was eager to sign the state’s restrictive new voting law, the most suppressive of its era, even though he had not read a key part of it. “I don’t know enough, I’m sorry,” the governor told a reporter who asked about a provision in the pending measure that will preclude pre-registration for those under 18 (because, after all, if there is anything this nation needs to do when it comes to encouraging civic participation it is to make it harder for eager young people to vote).
In his confessed ignorance of the details of a discriminatory voting law in a Southern state,
McCrory is no outlier. His incurious approach to such vital legislation is yet another form of the willful ignorance that has animated much of the national debate over voting rights over the past half decade or so. There has been the legal and historical ignorance of the purposes of the 15th Amendment and their continuing application to the modern-day ruses designed to suppress minority votes. There has been widespread practical ignorance of the differences (constitutional and otherwise) between being required to show photo identification to purchase allergy medicine and being required to show photo identification to exercise a constitutionally protected right to vote. And of course there is the granddaddy of them all when it comes to modern-day voter suppression — the factually ignorant and quite persistent myth that “voter fraud” in anything more than a negligible problem in any of the states where lawmakers have invoked such “fraud” to make it measurably harder for poor and elderly and ill and young citizens to vote.
How can a state justify such drastic voting restrictions based upon so little evidence of voter fraud? Because the United States Supreme Court said so, in 2008, in a case styled Crawford v. Marion County. Today, Crawford seems one part ignorant, one part naïve: yes, the justices said by a vote of 6-3, let’s unleash partisan state lawmakers to restrict voting access without requiring them to justify those restrictions on any discernible evidence. What could possibly go wrong? Perhaps Justice Stevens is mortified about what state officials, in North Carolina and elsewhere, have done with the “good faith” leeway he gave them in Crawford. He sure ought to be.
There is yet one more form of ignorance on voting rights that’s worth mentioning here—a hybrid of all the rest — and it’s brought to us by Ross Douthat, the columnist for The New York Times, who told his readers last week that the voting data behind North Carolina’s suppression measures support the Supreme Court’s dubious rationale in Shelby County because the new state law “has an impact on white Republicans as well as black Democrats … mostly affects the already-nonvoting … only matters in whisker-tight elections, and … probably [can] be mitigated through an effective voter turnout operation.”
In this iteration of the constitutional universe, unacknowledged until now in the text of the 15th Amendment or Voting Rights Act, a justification without any justification, the state’s ability to deprive a citizen of her most fundamental right depends upon how close an election is likely to be, how motivated the voter is to cast a ballot, how broadly the voting restrictions cut across racial lines, and how capable her party is in overcoming the partisan restrictions upon her ability to vote.
I’m one of the people who believe the voting restrictions will backfire, both politically and as a practical matter, particularly in North Carolina where yesterday’s Moral Monday protest was the largest yet. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see how quickly the basic idea of a right to vote has been diminished, where we now talk openly about “making up” for any wrongfully disenfranchised voters with a better turnout effort. From a right to a matter of campaign tactics, in about a decade.