Why Everyone Should Oppose North Carolina's New Voter ID Laws
On August 12 North Carolina's Republican Governor Pat McCrory, signed a voter identification bill passed by the state's Republican-dominated legislature. In January 2011, Public Policy Polling found that 66% of North Carolinians support a voter ID requirement on its own terms, while only 27% opposed it. Yet today only 39% of voters support House Bill 589, with 50% opposed to it. That's because the bill includes a slew of measures designed not only to keep left-leaning demographics away from the voting booth, using the nonissue of voter fraud as a pretext, but also inhibits voter registration and campaign finance transparency to the benefit of Republicans.
Republican pushes for voter ID laws, such as the one in North Carolina, require more stringent forms of identification rather than a simple proof of residence, limiting acceptable IDs to driver's licenses, passports, veteran's ID, or tribal cards. It is no coincidence that documented immigrants and minority voters, who are much less likely to vote Republican, are also less likely able to produce multiple forms of identification. In Orange County, California, 92% of white voters have driver licenses, compared to 84% of Latino voters and 81% of other minority voters. Similarly, in Wisconsin, 80% of white voters have licenses, while only 50% of Hispanic and African-American voters have them.
Although the purpose of voter ID laws is to ostensibly combat voter fraud, the rates of actual voter fraud are actually negligible. North Carolina's State Board of Elections reports that only .00174% of ballots cast are the result of voter fraud. On a national level, since 2000 there have only been 10 cases of in-person voter fraud — the only sort of fraud a voter ID law would prevent — which would be one case of in-person fraud for every 15 million voters. Good conservatives tend to complain about any perceived government overreach or excess, yet proposing a solution that increases government regulation to address a problem that is virtually nonexistent is the epitome of government overreach.
Therefore, the charitable explanation of the Republican zeal for voter ID legislation is that they don't have a firm grasp on the actual facts and data. But the realistic interpretation is that they have no problem imposing government overreach if it inhibits left leaning-demographics to exercise their voting rights at the polls.
Governor Pat McCrory and other Republicans counter accusations of disenfranchisement by pointing to the fact that the DMV will provide free identification to voters who lack it. However, anywhere between 203,351 and 38,643 registered voters do not have the necessary identification under the new law. North Carolina estimates that it will spend $834,200 on voting IDs in 2013 and 2014, followed by $21,400 for every two years after that. For fiscal conservatives, that's an awful lot of money to spend on addressing a problem that is, again, virtually nonexistent.
As if the mere push for voter ID legislation wasn't ludicrous enough, North Carolina's voter ID law comes with a host of other nasty attachments meant to keep liberal constituencies away from the ballot box. The law not only ends same-day voter registration but also reduces early voting by a week and stops pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.
Minority voter registration is declining and unnecessarily increasing registration deadlines further reduces the odds that minorities will register on time for Election Day. Therefore, it's no surprise that 72% of black voters oppose the law.
Early voting in most states tends to benefit Republicans up until the weekend before Election Day, when early voters tend to start voting Democratic. As such, maintaining early voting in North Carolina but ending it a week early is a purely partisan maneuver meant to benefit the GOP. In fact, a mere 33% of voters support ending early voting a week early while 59% oppose it.
House Bill 589 also contains provisions that are completely unrelated to voting regulations. The law decreases transparency of so-called dark money groups by reducing the public reporting requirements for their political donations. Groups like the State Government Leadership Foundation (SGLF) donate millions to GOP interests every year. These groups are instrumental in paying for Republican gerrymandering consultants and were particularly active in heavily skewing North Carolina's districts to the right.
If dark money groups say that politics is not their primary focus, federal tax law allows them to keep their identity anonymous. The addition to North Carolina's voter ID law allows dark money groups to pour an unrestricted amount of cash into Republican interests while remaining anonymous on the state level. Even as voter ID law proponents insist that the legislation is about increasing electoral transparency, North Carolina Republicans are intent on reducing the very same transparency by keeping voters ignorant of special interest groups operating behind the scenes.
An ACLU-led coalition has filed a lawsuit in response to the law on the grounds that it violates the constitution's equal protection clause as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Nonetheless, judicial challenges to the law face an uphill battle as the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in June. These provisions placed certain areas of the country with a history of discrimination against minority voters under heightened scrutiny. When the Supreme Court ruled that they were no longer necessary, many people correctly speculated that the action would lay the groundwork for the expansion of voter ID laws.
Governor Pat McCrory may accuse the "extreme left" of engaging in divisive politics by attacking his voter ID restrictions but, as the poll numbers show, it is the GOP's insistence on such laws, which solely benefit them, that are divisive. Liberals and civil libertarians should oppose the law on the grounds that it restricts voting rights, while conservatives themselves should oppose it on the grounds that it's an unnecessary government overreach that will cost the taxpayers money to address a non-issue.