Constitution should favor all, not one political party


Sunday, June 17, 2018

About a year ago, state Republican leaders vowed to retaliate in response to a painful rebuff from the U.S. Supreme Court, which had just refused to review a lower court ruling striking down the Legislature's 2013 discriminatory voter ID law.

“All North Carolinians can rest assured that Republican legislators will continue fighting to protect the integrity of our elections by implementing the common sense requirement to show a photo ID when we vote,” House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, the president pro tempore of the North Carolina Senate, said in a joint statement released in May 2017.

True to their word, the two GOP leaders are now pushing hard for a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote.

Specifically, House Bill 1092 calls for a constitutional amendment requiring “every person offering to vote in person shall present photo identification before voting in the manner prescribed by law.” If passed by the Legislature, a referendum on the amendment would be put on the November ballot for voters to decide if they want voter ID requirements added to the state constitution.

It will take three-fifths of the votes in both the House and Senate to put the measure on the November ballot. With the current political party makeup of the Legislature, that level of support is achievable, unless wiser heads prevail among the Republican ranks.

GOP lawmakers should be keenly aware of why the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down North Carolina's voter ID law in 2016. And knowing that, perhaps enough of them will be convinced that the racially-motivated provisions included in the 2013 law to prevent primarily black residents from casting ballots was a misguided act, and never the best path forward for North Carolina. Also, they should consider that continuing to press for laws that discriminate will only further tether the state GOP image and brand to regressive policies that divide our state.

The 2013 law, as characterized by the 4th Circuit Court judges in their 2016 decision, targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision" with the intent to limit their voting power during elections. The reason, of course, is because most blacks in North Carolina are registered Democrats who typically, though not always, support Democrats. Hence, what better way to limit both black voting power and Democrats from being elected, than to pass laws that prevent or discourage blacks from voting — which is what the GOP-driven 2013 law was designed to do?

When the contested state law finally reached the federal court, the justices saw right through it, and rightly struck it down as discriminatory.

Now, a year later, just as Berger and Moore promised, by reviving the voter ID law, GOP leaders appear ready to re-ignite the racial division from which the party should be distancing itself. Apparently, they are driven by a more troubling prospect than being tied to racial politics: Loss of veto-proof majorities in the Legislature.

Odds are good, based on national political trends and results in other state elections, that the current lopsided majorities held by the GOP in both the House and Senate in Raleigh are likely to disappear in the next election. That would greatly limit the future passage of bills like the 2013 voter ID and other legislation which requires no compromise — or discussion — with Democrats or anyone else.

That being the case, GOP leaders may see this referendum for a constitutional amendment as their last, best hope to help protect their party majorities. Other GOP lawmakers, however, should resist the temptation to use such sleight-of-hand measures. This bill ultimately could change the state constitution. A bill with such implications should not be presented to the voters along a party line vote.

The better alternative — one we urge for all lawmakers to consider — is to review and act on the findings of the State Board of Elections’ exhaustive study of the 2016 election completed last year. That study was conducted to determine if voter fraud — a charge that GOP leaders cited as a justification for the 2013 voter ID law — affected the outcome of the election. According to the study, it turned out that out of 4.8 million votes cast in the 2016 election, one — yes one — case of a fraudulent vote being cast would have been prevented by the voter ID law.

The study, however, did reveal that about 508 ineligible votes — not enough to change any outcomes —were cast. Most of them, 87 percent, or 441, were those cast by felons who voted unaware that their lost voting privileges in prison remained in effect during probation.

Thanks to the 2016 study, lawmakers have data on which to base laws and policies that may prevent or limit actual cases of voter fraud — if they care to use it.

Voting laws that protect the integrity of elections and support public confidence in the principle that every vote counts, should be based on facts, have a wide public appeal and should be considered for the betterment of all residents — not to advantage or disadvantage political parties. As written, the current legislation doesn't come close to reaching that bar. Until it does, it has no place in the state constitution.