The last week has brought two major developments in voting rights news. A new law in North Carolina restricts voting to an extent rarely seen, and Attorney General Holder and the Department of Justice are using the last enforcement provision left in the Voting Rights Act to challenge Texas (with other states to follow).
North Carolina, free from the scrutiny of the Justice Department after a key provision of the Voting Rights Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in June, will see extensive changes to its voting laws: limited early voting, no preregistration for high school students or same-day registration, and “strict” voter ID requirements (specific government-issued photo ID that over 300,000 residents do not have, and no social security cards, student ID, or other alternatives allowed). Per Politico, “Republicans claimed the changes will restore faith in elections and prevent voter fraud, which they claim is endemic and undetected. Nonpartisan voting rights groups, Democrats and Libertarians say the true goal is suppressing voter turnout among the young, the old, the poor and minorities.” Whatever the motivation, this law means that voting rights organizations and third-party voter reg orgs like HeadCount will have their work cut out for them to help residents overcome new obstacles to voting in North Carolina.
One remedy may come from Attorney General Eric Holder, who is using the still-standing Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act to lead piecemeal voter suppression battles now that the Justice Department no longer has sweeping authority. As he told the National Urban League Conference last week, “Even as Congress considers updates to the Voting Rights Act in light of the court’s ruling, we plan, in the meantime, to fully utilize the law’s remaining sections to subject states to preclearance as necessary.” Preclearance refers to the Justice Department’s authority to clear or strike down any change in voting laws in certain states with a history of racially-motivated voter suppression, and was largely obliterated by the Supreme Court’s recent ruling. But, Section 3 provides for preclearance by federal court order wherever discrimination can be proven, and Holder has publicly committed the Department of Justice to remaining aggressive about its application.
It is likely that North Carolina and any other states that attempt to exploit their new freedom to enact restrictive voting laws will in fact come under the scrutiny of the Department of Justice, along with that of other lawmakers who are taking up the fight.