Around the country from North Carolina to Wisconsin and from Texas to Kansas voting restrictions put in place by overly aggressive Republican state legislators have failed to measure up to judicial scrutiny.
Last week, in back to back decisions two federal judges ruled against restrictive voter identification laws in both Wisconsin and North Carolina. In an expansive document of 80 plus pages, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a massive blow to the proponents of North Carolina’s voter restriction law with such ferocity it could change the outcome of the General Election in November. North Carolina is a highly coveted swing state and with the lifting of restrictions on some of the Democratic Party’s key constituency it could determine whether the state goes red or blue.
When the court struck down the law last Friday it stated the law’s provisions deliberately, “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court left little doubt the law was intentionally designed to suppress Black voter turnout at the polls.
The decision put an end to North Carolina’s mandate that required voters to present photo identification and restored same day registration. It also restored other provisions decimated by the law including a person’s ability to register to vote before reaching the age of 18 years as well as the ability to cast ballots early. In addition, the court held that the ballots of people who mistakenly vote at the wrong polling place must also be deemed valid.
In an equally important and dramatic ruling on Friday, a U.S. District Court Judge called a list of Wisconsin’s restrictive voter laws, “a wretched failure.” He boldly found what most already suspected, that the laws were designed to benefit the Republican Party that enacted them, by unfairly disenfranchising minority voters. This ruling delivered another devastating blow to the Republican Party so close to the General Election. The judge stopped short of striking down the entire law because a federal appeals court had previously determined Wisconsin’s voter laws to be constitutional; so, he did what many voting rights advocates consider the next best thing—he mandated the state quickly issue valid voter IDs to anyone seeking free photo IDs. In a scathing opinion, District Judge James Peterson wrote, “The Wisconsin experience demonstrates that a preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”
Also on Friday, there was a shake-up in Kansas over its restrictive voter identification law when a County District Judge Larry Hendricks ruled the state must count thousands of votes cast by people who registered without providing documentation of their U.S. Citizenship. The Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach had previously ordered the votes only be considered in federal races not state or local. The judge’s ruling virtually blocked the Kobach order.
The judge’s ruling will remain in effect temporarily through Sept. 21. On that date he will hold a subsequent hearing to determine whether to continue to block the Kobach order through the November election. When announcing his decision in court Hendricks said, "There is no right that is more precious in a free country."
Earlier in the month a federal appeals court in Texas struck down it’s restrictive voter identification law. The 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals issued the third ruling against the Texas law leaving an opening for an appeal to the Supreme Court. Had the court failed to strike down the law as many as 600,000 Texas voters stood to be disenfranchised by the state’s restrictive photo identification rules.
In its ruling the court stated, "The district court must ensure that any remedy enacted ameliorates [the law’s] discriminatory effect, while respecting the legislature's stated objective to safeguard the integrity of elections by requiring more secure forms of voter identification."
In this case the court expressed its belief that although the state had not enacted the law to intentionally discriminate, that was the result.