We knew North Carolina’s controversial voter ID law was bad. But the Fourth Circuit US Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision to strike down the law Friday shows the law was an undeniable tactic used by the state’s elected officials to not so subtly disenfranchise black voters.
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, who wrote most of the opinion in North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP v. McCrory, makes it look like a bona fide conspiracy:
In Gingles and other cases brought under the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court has explained that polarization renders minority voters uniquely vulnerable to the inevitable tendency of elected officials to entrench themselves by targeting groups unlikely to vote for them. In North Carolina, restriction of voting mechanisms and procedures that most heavily affect African Americans will predictably rebound to the benefit of one political party and to the disadvantage of the other. As the evidence in the record makes clear, that is what happened here.
The federal appeals court pointed out that in the process of constructing the voter identification law, the state legislature not only requested data on the voter practices, which included race, but the changes to voting practices also seemed to use that information to target voters based on race.
"In particular, African Americans disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting," Motz wrote. "After the receipt of this racial data, the General Assembly amended the bill to eliminate the first week of early voting, shortening the total early voting period from seventeen to ten days."
Motz adds that the law effectively eliminated one of the two "souls-to-the-polls" Sundays, which organize efforts to bring black churches’ parishioners to polling places after services, even by providing transportation to those in need.
And in case it wasn’t obvious the state was targeting black people, the State explicitly said, "[c]ounties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black" and "disproportionately Democratic."
For Motz, the law amounted to "as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times," and that serves as one as an insidious reminder of the effects of how polarized North Carolina’s legislature really is.
Although the state is dominated by Republicans, North Carolina has become a Southern swing state in recent elections. Barack Obama won North Carolina 49.7 percent to McCain’s 49.4 percent in 2008. In the 2012 election, Mitt Romney won, but, again, not by much — 50.6 percent to 48.4 percent respectively.
Nationwide, over the past two elections, African-American voters, particularly 18- to 24-year-olds, came out in droves during the past two presidential elections to support Obama, to the point that the surge nearly erased the racial voter gap in 2008. And in 2012, black women secured Obama’s reelection in 2012 with a 70 percent voter turnout rate — the highest of any group across gender, race, and ethnicity.
Today, black voters can make or break elections. But what North Carolina’s unconstitutional voter ID law shows is how much black voters can threaten the status quo — and just how far those in power are willing to go to thwart the very possibility of change.