Justice department lawsuit is political

By John Hood | Oct 02, 2013

RALEIGH — What’s the Obama administration trying to do?

No, I’m not speculating about the president’s strategies for implementing his health care law or besting Congressional Republicans in budget battles. Today’s topic is closer to home: the decision by Attorney General Eric Holder to file a lawsuit alleging that North Carolina’s new election law violates the federal constitution and Voting Rights Act.

You might think the plan is to get the federal judiciary to strike down North Carolina’s new voter-ID requirement and other election changes. I doubt that Holder and his legal team have such an unrealistic goal. They know, even if North Carolina liberals don’t, that the U.S. Supreme Court has recently upheld voter ID. Under the prevailing understanding of federal law, such requirements are not the equivalent of poll taxes and do not infringe on the right to vote.

The lawsuit’s prospect aren’t much better on the other challenged provisions, including changes to early voting, voter registration, and out-of-precinct voting. There are no federally enforceable rights to vote early, register on the same day you vote, or cast a ballot in a precinct other than your own. If such rights existed, most of the country — including deep-blue states such as New York that have no early voting or same-day registration — would be guilty of voter suppression. No one, including the president and his attorney general, truly believes this.

Moreover, Eric Holder’s claims about North Carolina’s new law are uninformed. For example, it doesn’t reduce the opportunity to cast early ballots. Instead, it provides the same number of hours of early voting as before but does so during a 10-day window rather than a 17-day window. And to insist that voters go to the proper precinct to vote is not only in the interest of smooth elections administration but also in the interest of the relocated voters themselves, who would otherwise be blocked from voting in some district or local races that an out-of-precinct provisional ballot wouldn’t contain.

At best, the Obama administration may hope to beat North Carolina at the trial court, delaying implementation until the decision is reversed on appeal. I think it is more likely, however, that the goal isn’t legal at all. It’s electoral.

Democrats are worried about the midterm elections. Because President Obama is not on the ballot, the 2014 electorate may look more like 2010, when Democrats got “shellacked” (in the president’s own words), than like 2008 and 2012, when minority and young voters turned out in historic proportions. Under such a scenario, Republicans could well pick up congressional seats and, in North Carolina, protect most of their recent gains in legislative and local races.

By challenging North Carolina’s new election law, the Obama administration is trying to bestow two political gifts. First, the lawsuit furthers the immediate narrative that Republicans are turning the clock back on civil rights, a narrative designed to boost turnout among the Democratic base in 2014. Second, if that gambit fails and the GOP does well in 2014, Democrats will campaign in 2016 on the claim that Republicans actually succeeded in suppressing the vote! Either way, Holder’s actions are best interpreted as political theater, not as a serious attempt to protect voting rights that were never imperiled in the first place.

National and state Democrats have some cards to play for the 2014 cycle. I think this is among their weakest. Most North Carolinians, of all races and ages, endorse voter ID as a commonsense protection against voter fraud. Most independent studies show that neither it nor most of the other provisions at issue are likely to have a significant effect on voter turnout. The only exception, same-day registration during early voting, is exceedingly rare. The chance that a federal appeals court will find it mandatory under the Voting Rights Act is vanishingly small.

Republicans in Washington have drawn criticism for picking a federal budget fight they can’t win. On voter ID and election law, however, that’s exactly what the Obama administration and its allies have done.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Ron Rookstool | Oct 03, 2013 09:48

I routinely disagree with most of what John Hood has to say in his editorials. He is obviously being supported/funded by the teaparty radicals. I have seen very little of his editorials that address bipartisan politics, but rather slams the democrats philosophy. However regardless of anyone's feelings about the outcome, time will tell and bottom line is it is up to the voters to decide whether NC leaders are trying to suppress the voters right to vote.  As has always been stated, there was not enough voter fraud going on in NC to justify the waste of money and time to try to fix something that is not broken.

Posted by: Allen Alsbrooks | Oct 03, 2013 14:55

The state of our country is far greater than just blaming "Democrats" and "Republicans." Every elected official has had a hand in putting us in the position we are in now. Anyone placing blame on just one elected official or party isn't being honest. The root of the problem goes back generations and will take at least one generation to resolve. But that's only when we accept the fact our government is broken, our citizens demand more services than they pay in taxes, and "man-up" and force the government to become fiscally responsible.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Oct 04, 2013 12:00

       hood, hood, hood!


       North Carolina Supreme court has ruled previously that college students may vote and/or run for  local office in the precinct they go to school in using college ID's. This is a no-brainer that never should have been adopted in the first place. Unless, of course the adoptees just don't care what OUR courts say.

           While the Supreme's(US) have endorsed voter IDs, the case from Indiana had stipulations that allowed those without the ability to obtain an ID, like my Grandmother who was left on a doorstep, never to know who sired her, or those who objected to having a required ID, like the Mennonite or Amish, etc, to show they owned property/paid taxes, etc.

            N.C. has similar provisions. But! With the adoption of "challengers" allowed at voting sites, there may be problems that are unneccessary, especially as no true voter fraud exists anyway.

           Furthermore, and most importantly, what hood is not telling is that OUR justice department is looking into intent. If it was the intent to displace, discourage, disallow, etc, voters based on age, race, etc, that is discrimination and can result in the new law being overturned outright. And! Oversight by Feds thereafter. This is what the pope-led reactionaries fear and hood won't tell US.


         Chuck Z.

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