There was a time, not long ago, when states with a history of discrimination would have to have any new voting laws “precleared” by the Department of Justice (according to the Voting Rights Act). In June, the Supreme Court eliminated this provision — opening the door for states to enact laws without Federal oversight. And they have, with North Carolina passing a bill that places an extensive set of restrictions on voting, and Texas touting a strict photo ID law and a redistricting plan that the state, defending itself against charges of racial discrimination, admits is politically motivated. Now, voting rights groups are fighting back.
In North Carolina, hours after the new voting restrictions were signed into law last week, two lawsuits were brought against the state by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a coalition made up of the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The organizations point to restrictions like limited early voting, with the ACLU noting that “2.5 million early voting ballots were cast by North Carolina residents during the 2012 election – more than half the total electorate. During the 2008 and 2012 general elections, more than 70 percent of African-American voters used early voting.”
In the days following the enactment of the North Carolina law, the new voting restrictions were further strengthened by local legislative actions targeted at college students. They ranged from the closing of a campus polling place, so that 9,300 voters will now use a location with 35 parking spaces, to the targeting of a specific student at historically black Elizabeth City State University who sought to run for local office (with more student-registration challenges promised). Local officials claim that students should not be allowed to register to vote in local elections (or run for local office) if they only live on campus during the school year. In a state with over 300,000 university students, these restrictions could have a major impact on the outcome of upcoming elections.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Justice have asked that the state be subjected to preclearance of all new election laws because of recent issues with discriminatory voting practice. The state has come back with a legal brief to counter the request. In it, lawmakers defend their practices, stating that “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.” Targeting Democrats generally involves targeting minority-heavy areas, as in a redistricting plan previously shut down in preclearance that now may go into effect. The plan (outlined here) would likely prevent outspoken Democrat Wendy Davis, and many other Democrats, from winning re-election in newly Republican districts.
For more information on voting laws in play since the Supreme Court’s decision, take a look at the Washington Post’s piece on the voting rights battle. We’ll keep you updated as the elections landscape changes, so you’ll be equipped to vote, however your state sees fit.