The North Carolina legislature versus democracy

Early voting starts tomorrow here in North Carolina for a special election. The primary will select each party’s candidates for congressional representatives based on a new district map. The whole process is tainted by political corruption and efforts to stop legitimate voters from voting.

Even where that’s not the intent, it’s likely to be the effect of some policies. For example, where I live, which doesn’t have a bad record with respect to voter suppression, there will be a single polling place open in the entire county, both for early voting and even on election day, and it has very limited parking. I don’t think this is a deliberate voter-suppression effort, just an attempt to save money on what will probably be a very low-turnout primary anyway. But the practical effect will be to discourage a lot of people from voting if they lack transportation or simply aren’t aware of that their regular voting place will be closed.

If you’re a North Carolina voter you can find out more about the primary here. Contact your county’s elections office for information on where to vote, how to obtain an absentee ballot, and so on.

This extra primary is necessitated by a federal court’s rejection of the state’s racially gerrymandered map of congressional districts. The new map is still gerrymandered — as the Republican-controlled legislature openly admits — but now it’s said to minimizing the number of Democrats elected rather than packing black voters into a few districts. (Yes, both parties do this kind of thing. That doesn’t make it right.)

Moreover, in North Carolina (as in a number of other states), voters now must present one of a very limited set of photo IDs in order to vote. In theory there is an alternative for people who have had serious trouble obtaining a photo ID, but it’s not clear how well this works in practice. Requiring an ID is the sort of thing that sounds quite reasonable. After all, we don’t want people voting illegally. But the reality is that the requirement does vastly more harm than good to the integrity of elections.

Making voters show an ID addresses only one type of election fraud (voter impersonation) and that type happens to be the rarest and least effective way of influencing the results. Voting more than once by pretending to be someone else risks a felony conviction for the privilege of standing in line to cast just one fraudulent vote at a time. There are way, way easier ways to tamper with an election.

And in practice there is no evidence that it occurs more than in extremely rarely cases, or that it has changed the outcome of even a single election.

Moreover, consider how many college students use fake IDs to buy alcohol. If there ever were an organized attempt at voter impersonation, the people doing it would surely produce high-quality fake IDs. In short, requiring voter IDs is not just a solution to a virtually non-existent problem, it’s a solution that doesn’t even work.

But that’s not the bad part. The bad part is that while voter impersonation doesn’t affect elections, voter ID laws unquestionably do, by stopping legitimate voters from casting their ballots. Hundreds of thousands of people are without any of the few types of ID deemed acceptable, and most of the people in question are poor, very young, very old, or handicapped.

Yes, for most of us having a photo ID is no big deal, although it’s surprising how rarely I’m actually asked to who mine. I mainly use it when going through airport security, but that’s because it’s inconvenient not to; there are alternatives to a photo ID for purposes of airport security. (Think I’m wrong? The TSA says I’m not.) But people who don’t drive and don’t normally need a state-issued ID often don’t have one, or else they have an ID (such as a student ID) that voter ID laws typically don’t allow. For many people in many places getting a required type of ID can be a major pain in the neck if they don’t drive.

So voter ID laws not only fail to protect the integrity of elections, in practice they massively harm that integrity. If you understand the facts, it’s hard not to be enraged by this, especially if you realize that the laws aren’t just the result of a well-intended mistake but quite often a deliberate attempt to reduce the number of votes from people who are very young, elderly, poor, or handicapped, the very people who often tend to vote more for Democratic candidates. That’s why the politicians pushing for voter ID laws are almost without exception Republicans.

I should add for purposes of clarity and fairness that North Carolina’s legislature, for all its flaws, did at least include in its voter ID bill an alternative for voters without an ID, namely the ability sign statement explaining why it was not practical for the voter to get an ID. But in practice this may be little more than a cosmetic solution, and again, requiring an ID to vote is simply not justified.

For more on this, see this brilliant, informative, infuriating, and funny 14-minute exposé from John Oliver:


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The North Carolina legislature versus democracy — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Effort to do something about gerrymandering in North Carolina | D Gary Grady

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