Image courtesy of sc.gov
There can no longer be any debating whether the slew of voting restrictions passed by Republicans in recent the years are anything other than a blatant attempt to suppress the vote of Democratic-leaning poor and minority citizens. A series of recent court decisions has laid the true intent of these laws bare.
“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertedly justifying them,” wrote the U.S. 4th Circuit Court in striking down North Carolina’s voting restrictions. In fact, the court said the restrictions “impose cures for problems that did not exist. Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the state’s true motivation.”
On July 29, hours after the North Carolina decision, a federal district judge invalidated a whole series of unconstitutional voting restrictions in Wisconsin.
That same day, a county judge blocked a Kansas rule demanding proof of citizenship to register, preventing 17,500 “motor voters” from being thrown off the state’s voting rolls. Alabama and Georgia have similar laws.
All these decisions should be in effect for the November election, unless they are stayed on appeal. Wisconsin’s Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel has already announced his plans to appeal.
These decisions, along with recent voting rights victories in Michigan and Texas, overwhelmingly document not only these laws’ discriminatory effects, but also their racist intent. In the process they also rip to shreds the enduring Republican falsehood that the laws were designed to curb rampant voter fraud.
In the case of North Carolina, state legislators specifically requested a “racial breakdown” of voting practices. “Upon receipt of the race data,” the ruling notes, “the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans.”
In other words, legislators studied how African Americans vote and used what they learned to intentionally place roadblocks between black voters and the polls.
In one notorious example, North Carolina closed Sunday voting in an attempt to undermine “Souls to the Polls,” a day when African American churches would drive their congregations to polling places on a bus. For the justices on the 4th Circuit, there was no pretending that these laws didn’t intentionally target people of a certain color:
“The state’s very justification for a challenged statute hinges explicitly on race—specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to the franchise.”
North Carolina’s barely disguised Jim Crow law is “as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times,” the court noted. But even in states where Republicans at least tried to be subtle, the goal is still pretty transparent.
In the Wisconsin decision, U.S. District Judge James Peterson concluded the state’s restriction on early voting “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race” because it “was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose.” He said the partisan, as well as racial, goal of the restriction was to specifically suppress “the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee's African Americans."
Peterson’s ruling did not strike down Wisconsin’s rule that voters present a photo ID, but tossed a host of restrictions on early voting, absentee ballots, and the kinds of ID valid for voting.
We didn’t need a judge to tell us that these laws are discriminatory, or that they were designed as a GOP election strategy; some Republicans will have even said so themselves. But now that Republicans in some states have been caught with the racist “smoking gun,” so to speak, will others continue to push similar laws using the same, tired old talking points?
They didn’t stop when the voter fraud myth was repeatedly debunked. Nor did they stop when studies showed that the laws proposed in most states do nothing to stop the most common cases of election fraud.
But this creates a new litmus test: After the rulings in North Carolina and elsewhere revealed the blatant racism and unabashed self-interest behind these laws, will the Party of Lincoln continue to stand for them?
Tanner Jean-Louis is an editorial assistant at The Progressive.