For the last several years, Republicans have used the specter of voter fraud to promote legislation designed to keep some voters from the polls. It’s an electoral strategy masquerading as a clampdown on fraud. There is scant evidence of voter impersonation in any of the states that have passed these laws, which were promoted by a non-profit group founded by the Koch brothers. Building on this scam, North Carolina recently passed a voter-identification law that, for entirely political reasons, rips up some of the most progressive election laws in the country.
This week, Republican Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill that, as of 2016, will require voters to show government-issued photo IDs at the polls. The bill also shortens the early-voting period from 17 to 10 days, ends pre-registration for voters who will turn 18 by election day, and eliminates same-day registration of unregistered voters. Other states’ experience suggests these measures will disproportionately reduce the participation of students, the poor, the elderly, and minority voters, all groups that have tended to vote for Democrats.
McCrory, in a statement defending the law, insists that these measures are necessary to curb fraud. But the North Carolina Board of Elections has referred only two cases of voter impersonation to prosecutors since 2004. And only the ID portion of the law bears any relationship to fraud prevention; the others simply make it harder to vote. McCrory also repeats a now-common red herring — that people need photo IDs to board planes or buy Sudafed. But Americans don’t have a constitutional right to airline seats or cold medicines; they do have a constitutional right to vote, which must not be impeded by fees and bureaucratic barriers.
McCrory plays up the fact that DMVs will provide free IDs to voters. But the application process is complicated and requires forms such as birth certificates that are costly to obtain. US Senator Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, has asked the Justice Department to review the law for civil-rights violations, and such an inquiry is entirely warranted.