I missed this story earlier this week, what with the flood of international news, but it certainly represents a significant step in the battle over voter ID laws and the likely looming battle before the Supreme Court. A federal judge in North Carolina has rejected a challenge brought by the NAACP and other civil rights organizations to the state’s recent voting regulations law.
ATLANTA — A federal judge in North Carolina on Friday rejected an effort by civil rights groups and the Justice Department to block the application of key elements of a Republican-backed state law that curtailed early voting and other opportunities for residents to cast their ballots.
The 125-page written ruling, issued late Friday by Judge Thomas D. Schroeder of the Federal District Court, rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the law, one of the most far-reaching in a recent national wave of Republican-backed legislation on voter ID and against voter fraud, would place “disproportionate burdens” on African-American voters hoping to participate in the November elections.
The voter ID portion of the law will not take effect until 2016, and so is not really the focus of this ruling as that portion isn’t up for a challenge yet. More central to this case is the provision, already in place, which reduced the early voting window from 17 days to 10 days. How that constitutes a violation of any specific group’s rights is beyond me.
Doug Mataconis (who brought the ruling to my attention) seems to agree.
While Judge Schroeder’s 150 page opinion largely defies excerpting here, his essential holding with respect to each of these matters is that the burden placed on voters is de minimis and the governments interests in properly regulating the electoral process was sufficient to support the law. With regard to many of the law’s provisions, this argument makes sense. Reducing early voting from 17 to 10 days is clearly not a significant restriction on voting rights, especially when one takes into account the fact that there is no evidence at all that the availability of early voting. The same is true of the changes that shortened the amount of time within which one could register to vote prior to an election. With specific regard to the Voter ID laws, while it certainly seems to be the case that the GOP’s emphasis on these laws is misplaced given the fact that there’s little evidence of the type voter fraud that such laws would prevent, that does not strike me as being sufficient reason to strike the laws down.
I’ve never been clear on how changes to the dates for early voting – or the complete lack thereof – places an unfair burden on any subset of voters. The fact is that the law applies to everyone. If you can find a case where a state passes a law saying that white voters have a month to vote and minorities can only show up at the polls between noon and two on a Tuesday, let me know and I’ll be right out there with you protesting it. But that’s simply not the case here.
And as I’ve pointed out before, it’s not as if early voting is some sort of determining factor or embedded right around the country. Here in New York we must have the most horrible group of racist legislators in the country, because do you know how long you have to vote in the Empire State? Fifteen hours. That’s right. You have from 6 AM until 9 PM to vote on election day. That’s it. (Aside from absentee and military ballots, which every state has.) Why are there no massive protests against New York’s horribly racist voting laws? Because Democrats already win all the elections here, so why rock the boat?