The 2016 general election is less than 100 days away — making the recent rush of voting rights wins across the country more important than ever. The last few weeks saw wins in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas, Texas, and North Dakota as courts in these states struck down restrictive local voting laws.
Ever since the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down key sections of the Voting Rights Act, a number of states have passed stringent voter ID laws and rolled back programs like early voting and same-day registration. Despite claims that these new laws have been implemented to prevent voter fraud, it’s clear that voter suppression is at the core of each restrictive law passed.
Nowhere is this clearer than in North Carolina, where, in late July, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory that North Carolina’s voting laws suppress voting and “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”
The majority opinion calls out the states’ voter ID provision for excluding “many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans” while allowing “only the kinds of IDs that white North Carolinians were more likely to possess.” It also noted that “African Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting” and “African American voters disproportionately used [same-day registration] when it was available,” both of which North Carolina’s bill had done away with. Also on the chopping block was out-of-precinct voting, which black North Carolinians also utilized more than their white counterparts. The final nail in the discriminatory coffin was absentee voting, which was allowed to continue under the new North Carolina law; the McCrory opinion determined “that African Americans did not disproportionately use absentee voting; whites did.”
All of this adds up to a huge win for voters in North Carolina, who will not need to show an ID to vote this November. Voters will also be allowed to register on Election Day or before they turn 18, participate in early voting, and have their ballots counted if they accidentally vote out of precinct.
A similar win was seen in Texas in late July, when the Fifth Circuit Court ordered a lower court to find a fix to a voter ID law that was ruled as discriminatory before November’s election. The court found that African American, Latino, and poor voters were most likely to be impacted by the Texas law and that a fix was necessary to accommodate “voters who do not have . . . ID or are unable to reasonably obtain such identification.”
In Wisconsin, a federal judge in Milwaukee ruled that a statement explaining a voters’ challenges to obtaining appropriate ID could substitute for showing a physical ID. A separate ruling days later struck down broader provisions of Wisconsin’s voting law, including limits on early voting, student IDs, absentee ballots, and more. Unfortunately, the decision was granted a stay just a week later.
In Kansas, a district judge issued a temporary order against a 2013 state law requiring new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship in order to vote, allowing over 17,000 votes that had been in question in a recent primary election to be counted. The temporary order will expire in 120 days, meaning that it will remain in place for November’s election.
A federal judge blocked North Dakota’s voter ID law last Tuesday, ruling it discriminatory to the states’ Native American population. North Dakota requires one of only four accepted state IDs to be shown at the polls, but Native Americans are less likely to have common forms of identification like driver’s licenses and birth certificates, making it more difficult for them to obtain the necessary documents for IDs. Like those in North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas, the ruling will remain in effect during the upcoming election.
As an important presidential election approaches, these rulings are expected to especially help minorities, the elderly, low-income voters, and young people — all of whom may not have the mobility, time, or documentation to adhere to the guidelines put in place by strict voting laws — exercise their right to vote. Even if you’re not a North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, or North Dakota voter, this sweep of rulings show that courts are beginning to see what voting rights advocates have been saying for years: so-called “anti-voter fraud” laws are actually all about voter suppression and often just plain old racism. When all of American voters are able to cast a ballot, our country becomes fairer and more representative — a more perfect union.