On Monday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed an omnibus voting standards bill into law. In a video message, he talked only about the voter ID portion of the law and assured citizens that only “the extreme left” opposed the law, for its usual crazy, extreme reasons. He neglected to mention that he’d just cut back on same-day registration and in-person early voting. Hours later the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People sued the governor, arguing that he and legislators had “evidence that African-Americans used early voting, same-day voter registration, and out-of precinct voting at higher rates than white voters.” On Wednesday, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul spoke at the Louisville Forum and fielded a question about voter ID bills. “The interesting thing about voting patterns now,” offered Paul, “is in this last election African-Americans voted at a higher percentage than whites in almost every one of the states that were under the special provisions of the federal government. So really, I don’t think there is objective evidence that we’re precluding African-Americans from voting any longer.” While Paul was speaking, the Republican National Committee announced a special 50th-anniversary commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It would take place a few blocks from the Capitol, and feature the party’s lone black member of Congress, state legislators from Oklahoma and Louisiana, the party’s black committee members, and two once-rising black Republican stars who lost their last elections.
Nobody said rebranding would be easy, but this is excruciating. National Republicans want to win black voters, and to let it be known that those voters are welcome on Team Reagan. “Shaking black hands and kissing black babies would reassure nervous white voters that Republicans are not bigots,” wrote the black conservative pundit Deroy Murdock this year.
If only the Republicans who’ve won power in red states would go along with it. When the Supreme Court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a trove of mostly Southern counties no longer had to clear their electoral laws and maps with the Justice Department. The result: voter ID laws freed from limbo in Mississippi and South Carolina, new bills passed in Texas and North Carolina, and denunciations from the NAACP. All this while the Republican National Committee continues to campaign in court against an old consent decree that prevents either party from launching “ballot security” programs without notice.
“Republicans have not always been savvy about making these arguments,” says Artur Davis, a former Democratic congressman from Alabama who switched parties in 2012, campaigned for Mitt Romney, and backs voter ID laws. “The voter ID movement has been damaged by extremists who argue that Obama somehow stole both elections, or clowns like the Pennsylvania legislator who bragged with no evidence to support the notion that a voter ID law would kill Democrats in Pennsylvania.”