Within 20 minutes of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning a portion of the Voting Rights Act, the attorney general of Texas tweeted a message signaling that strict voter-ID laws would go into effect there immediately. “I’ll fight Obama’s effort to control our elections,” Greg Abbott, who just announced he’s running for governor of Texas, tweeted June 25, the day the 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder was released. Unless the law can be successfully challenged in court, Texas residents will now have to show a state- or federal-issued form of photo identification to vote. The list of acceptable forms includes a concealed-handgun license but not a state university student ID. The omission suggests it is not voter fraud but voters unfriendly to the GOP that Abbott and other Texas Republicans are trying to thwart. Other states — like Mississippi and Arkansas – that have GOP-controlled legislatures and a history of racial discrimination, and whose election laws have been supervised by the Department of Justice since the VRA’s passage in 1965, have also wasted no time moving forward with new voting restrictions in the wake of the Shelby County decision.
But no state’s action has been more dramatic than North Carolina, whose legislature last week passed what election-law experts have characterized as the most draconian and restrictive registration and voting law in the country.
“It’s just an audacious attempt on the part of Republicans to suppress the vote, it’s just about as blatant as you can imagine,” says Rep. David Price, a Democrat who represents the state’s Research Triangle area, which includes Duke and the University of North Carolina. “You do wonder how they felt they could get away with it.”
The North Carolina law is a grab bag of bad ideas. It not only institutes a government-issued photo-ID requirement for voting, similar to the Texas law, but also eliminates same-day voter registration and requires voters to register or update their address at least 25 days ahead of the election; reduces the early voting period by a week; abolishes a program to register high-school students in advance of their 18th birthdays; empowers partisan poll watchers with greater authority to challenge voters; and eliminates out-of-precinct voting. The law also weakens candidate disclosure and fundraising rules, thereby allowing unlimited corporate donations and abolishing the requirement that candidates endorse their own television ads.