If there was any remaining doubt that North Carolina’s voting restrictions — which require a photo ID to vote and limit early voting days — are about disenfranchising black people, recent comments by a top Republican consultant in the state should put that doubt to rest.
Longtime Republican consultant Carter Wrenn, a fixture in North Carolina politics, said the GOP’s voter fraud argument is nothing more than an excuse.
“Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.
“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.”
This is as close to a smoking gun as anyone is going to get. Wrenn fully acknowledged that this is political and black people are being targeted, and rejected the other claim — voter fraud — that Republicans typically use to justify new voting restrictions.
The justification Wrenn gives — that Republicans want to protect their majority in the government just like anyone else — is unsatisfying, to say the least. Sure, any party would love to keep a majority in the legislature. But in this case, what Republicans are trying to do to achieve that — disenfranchise voters, particularly on the basis of their race and party affiliation — is inherently bad.
This is not complicated. More people participating in democracy is good. We want people to be active in their society and government, so no voices go unheard. Yet Republican legislators explicitly want to prevent this for their own political gain, and they’re doing it in a way that targets people based on their race.
As Wrenn suggests, Republicans have tried to get around this by claiming that their real concern is preventing in-person voter fraud. By requiring a photo ID and limiting early voting days, they hope it’ll be easier to catch fraudulent voters.
There’s a problem with that: The type of in-person voter fraud that initiatives like North Carolina’s target is nonexistent to extremely rare. Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt has tracked credible allegations of in-person voter impersonation for years, finding 35 total credible allegations between 2000 and 2014, when more than 800 million ballots were cast in national general elections, and hundreds of millions more were cast in primary, municipal, special, and other elections.
In fact, the types of voter fraud that do exist — vote buying, insider ballot-box stuffing, double voting, and voting by people who turn out to be ineligible — are, if anything, made easier by laws like North Carolina’s. The state’s law, for one, made voting by mail-in absentee ballot easier by making registration forms more available online, and it doesn't require absentee voters to show photo ID.
At the same time, studies show that voting restrictions are more likely to hurt black voters. One widely cited 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice found voter ID laws, for instance, disproportionately impacted eligible black voters: 25 percent of black voting-age citizens did not have a government-issued photo ID, compared with 8 percent of white voting-age citizens.
These are the facts that led Fourth Circuit Court Judge Diana Gribbon Motz to strike down several restrictions in North Carolina’s law in July, concluding that it “target[ed] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” Wrenn’s comments confirm Motz’s findings.