Courts Rebuke Restrictive Voting Measures in Six States
The Nation’s Ari Berman says despite recent victories, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act leaves the door open to further restrictive voting measures
JAISAL NOOR: Now joining us is Ari Berman. He’s senior contributor for the Nation and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. Thanks so much for joining us again Ari.
ARI BERMAN: Thanks so much for having me back.
NOOR: So Ari, this is the first presidential election since the Supreme Court gutted the 1964 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County vs Holder. There was a slew of moves by states that were sort of unhindered by the federal government. They passed a number of voting rights laws. So talk about the significance of the 6 states where courts have weighed in, and some of these were not known to be liberal courts. Some of these were conservative courts.
BERMAN: Yes, so it was a remarkable string of victories, both for the laws that were struck down but also for the decisions themselves. Some of the country’s worst voting restrictions like in North Carolina were struck down. But they were also struck down in a way that was really notable. In North Carolina for example, the courts found evidence of intentional discrimination against black voters. They said that black voters were targeted with “almost surgical precision”. Which is really remarkable language for a court to use.
In Texas where voter ID law was ruled against and softened, the decision was written by a George W. Bush appointee. In North Dakota where the courts found that that voter ID law discriminated against Native American voters. That was written by a George W. Bush appointee. So we’re seeing almost a bipartisan reaction in the courts against the country’s most egregious laws and luckily it’s coming right before the elections so that people will now have enough time to vote in November in some of these states with the worst voting restrictions previously on the books.
NOOR: So Donald Trump told the Washington Post, “the voter ID registration has turned out to be a very unfair development. We may have people vote 10 times”. So he’s referring to these slew of decisions. How do you respond to arguments like that? Has there really been any evidence of that happening?
BERMAN: No. So voter impersonation which is the only type of fraud that a voter ID law would stop is exceedingly rare. There have been only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation since 2000 out of a billion votes cast. So this whole notion of voter fraud, particularly voter impersonation, has been a manufactured crisis by the Republican Party to try build support for laws making it harder to vote. I’m not surprised Trump who questioned the citizenship of the first black president would now be reacting negatively to court decisions overturning voter suppression laws.
But the fact is there’s absolutely no basis in fact for what he’s saying. And indeed the courts in states like North Carolina and Texas and Wisconsin grapple very directly with this voter fraud questions they said that number 1, there’s very little evidence of voter impersonation to begin with. Wisconsin for example, the didn’t present a single case of voter impersonation in court to justify their voter ID law. And they said that in a lot of cases, ironically the voter ID laws would make the problem of fraud worst because in North Carolina for example, the state is requiring ID for in person voting where fraud is very rare. But they’re not requiring IDs for absentee voting where fraud is more common. Still rare but more common.
And the reason why that’s happening is because democrats and African Americans are more likely to vote in person and republicans and white voters are more likely to vote absentee. So the court said that under the guise of combating voter fraud, in fact North Carolina is likely going to make voter fraud more common. So that’s really why these arguments don’t stand up.
NOOR: And so to be clear, these court rulings aren’t final necessarily. But is it likely that they’ll get appealed to the Supreme Court with Scalia no longer being there and the court being split?
BERMAN: So North Carolina said it’s going to try to appeal. But it’s unlikely the court’s going to hear the appeal because they’re deadlocked 4-4. It’s even clear that Justice Kennedy will necessarily side with the conservatives to overrule the lower courts. So this is being done well before the election. There have been extensive trials in these cases. The circuit courts have been very careful with their opinions. So I don’t think the Supreme Court, unless barring some major unforeseen development is going to step in.
Texas which has sued the Obama administration more than any other state just said they’re not going to go to the Supreme Court because they don’t believe they can win. So they’ve settled this case. Which means in Texas that those people without voter IDs will still be able to cast a ballot which is a major victory for voters there. So the death of Justice Scalia has really transformed the voting rights landscape.
NOOR: And finally we’ve seen I think we had talked off camera; I think 15 states with restrictive voting measures on the books right now at least. But on the other hand you have some news in Oregon, I believe, where they actually sort of went the other way. Can you talk a little bit about what happened in Oregon, how it bucks the trend we’ve seen in these conservative–these Republican-controlled states.
BERMAN: Yea so as republican controlled states have largely made it harder to vote, we’re seeing that blue states controlled by democrats are starting to make it easier to vote and Oregon is really leading the way on this because they’re doing what’s called an automatic voter registration. So when you go to the DMV to get a driver’s license or a state ID you are automatically registered to vote.
You don’t have to do anything affirmatively and they will send you, if you’re a US citizen, they will then send you your voter registration form. And they’ll send you a ballot because it’s a mail in ballot state. So this is a really, really unique way of thinking about the vote. Instead of making it more difficult to vote, they’re going to try to make it as easy as possible to try to boost voter participation.
Indeed, it’s been working really well in Oregon. Voter registrations have basically quadrupled compared to previous election cycles just by doing this and hopefully it will be expanded beyond the DMV to other state agencies so that voter registration in Oregon will hopefully be as automatic as possible. And if you’re a US citizen and you’ve over the age of 18 you will be able to register to vote. Which is very different from how a lot of other states control—our republicans right now are approaching the issue.
NOOR: Yea it’s pretty interesting to see the contrast between those two approaches. Finally, Ari in some of the primaries, during the primary season, both republican and democrats, we saw massive lines of people trying to vote in places like Arizona. Can you talk a little bit about, can we expect more of that in the presidential election in November?
BERMAN: It’s very possible. I mean the reason why there were long lines in Maricopa County, Arizona which is home to Phoenix, is that that county eliminated 70% of their polling places. And that was something that nobody knew about. I didn’t know about it and I covered this stuff until election day when I saw these long lines. So I’m concerned that local jurisdiction, local counties will do these, there will be very little advanced notice. And it’ll be very burdensome for voters.
We’re already seeing in states like North Carolina for example, they’re closing polling places on historically black campuses. They’re closing precincts and polling stations for democratic neighborhoods. This stuff’s very worrisome. Again, the legislature doesn’t have to pass a law to do this. This can be done by local counties right before an election with very little advanced notice. I think everyone has to remain really, really vigilant here. Not just think hey we want some cases in court, this fight is over.
Number one there’s still a lot of bad laws on the books. Number two even in states where things have been stuck down there’s still a lot of possibility for mischief, particularly with the Voting Rights Act weakened. So I think there’s a lot to be vigilant about between now and election day.
NOOR: Alright, Ari Berman thanks so much for joining us.
BERMAN: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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