Republican Lawmakers Get A Big Court Victory
With the decision by federal judge Thomas Schroeder upholding the North Carolina’s election law overhaul that Republicans approved in 2013, the 485-page opinion is a massive analysis of the legislative intent and, at times, a stark dismissal of opponent’s criticisms.
The ruling can only be viewed as a solid win for the Republicans when they were desperate for any news of a victory for their party’s policies in the state.
Having had to change the congressional maps due to an adverse three-judge federal panel and the international controversy over House Bill 2, Judge Schroeder’s opinion was clear in stating that North Carolina had the authority to revise its electioneering laws based on legitimate state interests and intent, as long as any discriminatory evidence or intent was not present in the enactment of the law.
The allowance of state interests goes back to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling regarding Indiana’s Voter ID law, in which the court’s majority held that “There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligible voters. Moreover, the interest in orderly administration and accurate recordkeeping provides a sufficient justification for carefully identifying all voters participating in the election process. While the most effective method of preventing election fraud may well be debatable, the propriety of doing so is perfectly clear.”
In constructing the voter identification component, and allowing voters to still cast a provisional ballot based on a set of‘ "reasonable impediments," North Carolina enacted a non-strict version of voter ID laws that a series of states have enacted as well, as defined by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In upholding the legislature’s reduction in the number of early-voting days, Judge Schroeder noted that the requirement for all 100 counties to have the same hours of voting over fewer days demonstrated a positive impact on minority voters: while the law “took away in early-voting days, it gave back in equal hours that appear to be even more convenient. This is demonstrated by the 2014 election data, where African American turnout actually increased after the transition from seventeen days of early voting to the new schedule.”
Judge Schroeder referred back to the differences between the 2010 mid-term election, which operated under the previous conditions, and the 2014 mid-term election, where a number of new requirements, such as the reduction in early voting days and other aspects, where implemented, and found that 2014’s turnout, especially among minority groups, actually went up in comparison to the 2010 turnout.
While white voters saw a turnout in 2010 of 45.7 percent and went up to 46.8 percent, black voters in North Carolina went from 40.4 percent in 2010 to 42.2 percent in 2014, and Hispanic voters went from 19.9 percent to 20.5 percent.
Regarding the elimination of same-day registration, Judge Schroeder again pointed to the increase in black voter registration from 2010 to 2014 and noted that black voters had a higher rate of participation without same-day registration than they did in 2010.
While Judge Schroeder used the comparison between 2010 and 2014 elections to demonstrate his finding, it is important to note that the political environments between the two mid-term elections are dramatically different. The 2010 mid-term was a notable rebuke of President Obama through the Tea Party insurgency, and became a GOP tsunami wave that heralded in the Republican majority in the general assembly and an easy win for the Republican Party in the U.S. Senate election that year.
On the other hand, the 2014 election saw one of the most expensive and competitive U.S. Senate races in North Carolina, combined with the hyper-polarized political environment that most likely drove voter participation.
While same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will be allowed in the June 7 congressional primary election, the full force of the election overhaul will be felt in this fall’s general election, pending any appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and, most likely, ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court. But with voter ID laws upheld in Indiana and other states, Judge Schroeder’s findings that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the discriminatory intent in North Carolina’s election law changes, it may be a further uphill battle by Democrats and civil rights groups in their challenge of these changes.
For North Carolina Republicans, it could be a welcomed sigh of relief in finding at least one of their policy enactments standing up to judicial scrutiny. Public scrutiny, however, may be fleeting for this win, considering the start of the short legislative session coincided with this ruling being handed down.