People across North Carolina and the nation who care about fair elections are celebrating the U.S. Supreme Court’s action Monday that essentially strikes down the state’s egregious voter-restriction law. They have good reason, but they shouldn’t get carried away. Several signs suggest the threat to equitable treatment of voters won’t disappear that easily.
The court unanimously declined to hear an appeal of the 4th Circuit’s decision that North Carolina’s 2013 voting law discriminated against African American voters “with almost surgical precision.” That law was considered one of the most restrictive U.S. voting laws in decades, with multiple provisions that disproportionately affected black voters.
So the high court’s refusal to hear the case was an important victory for voting rights. But it’s not the last word.
First of all, General Assembly leaders or another party could appeal the Supreme Court’s decision to the court itself. That’s unlikely to succeed, but it is an option they are certainly exploring.
Also, Chief Justice John Roberts issued an unusual statement saying the court’s decision had nothing to do with the merits of the case and stemmed from confusion over who had standing to appeal. That sounded like an ominous invitation for other challenges.
Even if a General Assembly appeal fails, another voting rights case could make its way to the Supreme Court. And with Neil Gorsuch now restoring a 5-4 edge to the conservative wing of the court, voting rights advocates would face a tougher fight.
Back in North Carolina, Republicans responded to Monday’s news by committing to continue the fight for voter ID laws and other voting restrictions.
N.C. Republican Party Chairman Robin Hayes insisted the invalidated provisions were “common sense voting protections” and vowed to “continue to fight for common sense and constitutional voter I.D. measures...” He said Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein would “ultimately lose in their efforts to block North Carolina citizens from having these protections.”
In other words, better keep an eye on the next 3 a.m. legislative session.
One other threat to equal access to the voting booth: President Trump announced a commission last week to investigate voter fraud. That should be an effective tool for sowing continual doubt about election integrity.
The 2013 N.C. law sought to suppress the black vote in five ways: a strict voter ID provision; elimination of same-day registration and preregistration of teenagers; a cut to early voting days; and a ban on provisional ballots.
All North Carolinians should want fraud-free elections. But the state Board of Elections released the results of an extensive audit of the 2016 election that found that out of 4.8 million votes cast, one – 1 – would probably have been avoided with a voter ID law.
In-person voter impersonation is virtually non-existent. Republican leaders should instead focus their efforts on potential legitimate concerns, like hacking and outdated equipment.
Judging from their words Monday and their actions over the years, though, they’ll continue to try to disenfranchise voters. So toast Monday’s Supreme Court decision, but do it quickly.